Michael Bradley: From 'runt of the litter' to U.S. star

By Mike Woitalla

U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, who on Tuesday lines up against Mexico in his 22nd World Cup qualifier and 75th game for the USA, is the subject of the Youth Soccer Insider's latest edition of "When They Were Children."

At age 13, Michael Bradley watched the USA on a bitter cold night in Columbus, Ohio, that ended with sweet a 2-0 win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying.

“And I remember waking up really early in the morning in 2002 to watch the U.S. beat Mexico at the World Cup in Korea,” Bradley said on the eve of Tuesday's Azteca World Cup qualifier. “Soccer in this country has gotten to the point that we remember these games, we were grew up with these games, so now when it's your chance to step on the field and represent the United States in a game like this, you don’t take it lightly.”

The second time Bradley played against Mexico, in 2009, he scored both goals in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win.

Bradley signed a professional contract with MLS at age 16 and played for his father, Bob Bradley, with the MetroStars. Bob, now Egypt's national team coach, was also his coach with the USA until Jurgen Klinsmann took over in 2011.

Bob Bradley sometimes helped out with Michael's youth teams but never coached one. In a 2007, I asked him whether it was it important to him that his son would become an exceptional player.

"No," he said. "You hope to help your kids find things that they have passion for, things that they really love, and things that they want to put something into. That was just the way we always approached it.

"Our oldest daughter, Kerry, loved ballet and was a very serious dancer for a long time. Our youngest daughter Ryan has played soccer and tennis.

"As a young kid, Michael was always around the game, and he was around good soccer people. I'm sure that had a lot to do with his love for the game."

David Richardson was Michael Bradley’s coach with the Sockers FC Chicago youth club when Bob was head coach of MLS's Chicago Fire.

"How he is now compared to how he was as a youth player, it's a neat story," said Richardson. "He was the runt of the litter. Athletically, he wasn't, let's say, fully developed. Sometimes when you look a youth team, people say the best guys are the ones who are the better athletes.

"Mike wasn't that. But he loved the game. He had a passion for it. He was a soccer rat. And he always had the desire to improve."

Michael’s favorite hangout was the Sockers' headquarters -- the Soccer City indoor facility in Palatine, where his mother, Lindsay, would drop him off almost daily after school.

"Some young players shy away from the things they're not good at," said Richardson. "Mike understood his weaknesses. He focused on them rather than avoiding them, whether it was defensive play or the fact that he wasn't the fastest guy."

Michael would arrive at Soccer City and jump in with whatever teams were in action. Often they were the older groups.

"The kid wanted to play, all day, every day," says Lindsay. "It didn't matter with whom or when."

He entered U.S. Soccer's U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. when John Hackworth, now head coach of the Philadelphia Union, was the U.S. U-17 assistant coach.

"When Michael first got into residency, he was a really small kid, with really good technical ability," says Hackworth. "He was up to my shoulder when he arrived. He was taller than me when he left. Now he towers above me."

But Hackworth says he and head coach John Ellinger believed then he had the potential to be "a phenomenal pro" because of his work ethic and because he was a student of the game.

"Michael might be the best example of how important it is to recognize that kids develop at different ages," Hackworth says. "He wasn't really fast. He's still not very fast. He was always a really good player. He just needed time to physically mature and continue developing.

"Michael is the example of a player who recognizes the educational aspects on the field, but also off it. He understood what it takes to dedicate yourself to the game and have focus and commitment."

Previous editions of the YouthSoccerInsider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Chris Wondolowski
Hope Solo
Jurgen Klinsmann
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
Didier Drogba
Lionel Messi
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream

7 comments about "Michael Bradley: From 'runt of the litter' to U.S. star".
  1. BJ Genovese, March 26, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.

    You know... this story sort of bugs the hell out of me... Its a story of a kid that was not very good but made good because of his fathers influence. Sure he worked hard and became a good player. But think of all the other "runts" out there right now in US soccer's data base that are being passed over for other kids with better "matters of circumstance". It difficult to hear lines like 'he was so technical that his size did not matter". There are many kids like this in US soccer's data base right now but they don't have a father in the high ranks of soccer. So they are passed over for the big, early developers, or kids with some kind of outside influence (and this is very prevalent). I personally think that Bradley is not good enough for our national team. He lacks confidence going forward and his whole soccer life has been about making him better at the cost of a spot that would have been better served to somebody else that truly deserved to be bumped.
    "But Hackworth says he and head coach John Ellinger believed then he had the potential to be "a phenomenal pro" because of his work ethic and because he was a student of the game." You cant tell me that these guys did not have there next job under Bob Bradley floating around in there heads. Its just total fluff. What other kids are picked with this only on there resume? You just don't deny a kid who's father has influence over your career... gimme a break. So if he is a good player now... imagine what we could create if we took kids with absolutely no connections what so ever... that were much more gifted... and actually developed them unbiased...

  2. Chris Sapien , March 26, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.

    David, I think you need to rewatch the CR game and look at Bradley's work ethic on display. He is one of the consummate team players, something that should never be overlooked, nor can be coached into a player. As I have stated before, a team is comprised of players who have defined roles, yes they of course have a base level of skills, but their roles are what comprise a successful team. Who's in front of Dempsey on the lone goal? Bradley. Who does Guzan lay the ball off to after a threatening counter in the 37th? Bradley. Who is at the top of the six defending when Dempsey attempts his bicycle clearance? Bradley. Who cares what Hackworth or whomever may have been thinking or not? There is no evidence that this "crusade" people find themselves on to discover these mythological better but less fortunate players will ever materialize. I know your heart may be in the right place, but it will be better served if we don't always concede that ulterior motives are the only reason someone may be given limited opportunities from others.

  3. Aresenal Fan, March 27, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.

    Chris I agree with you, Bradley is all over the place and I personally think that he is one of our USA anchors along with Dempsey and Howard. I used to believe the same as David, but not any longer, he is one of our best USA players. David, I do agree though, that without all those connections he has had throughout his lifetmie, he might of not made it out of our soccer system. Some kids are lucky to get one good chance, others never will, some will get countless... yeah im with you, it sucks to be youn and talented in the USA soccer landscape

  4. Aresenal Fan, March 27, 2013 at 3:15 p.m.

    David, it's very dissapointing to see some many talented and dedicated young players that breath this game in the states. All just waiting for the opportunity for someone to give them a decent shot at further development. If these kids were at another country, they would all be involved in a professional club and might reach thier full potential. It's very sad that we have not created that type of atmosphere in the states with so much soccer being played.

  5. Xavi Hernandez , March 28, 2013 at 12:10 a.m.

    Maybe Bradley proves our system really can develop good professionals, as Bradley is now. You just need to have a relative on the national team coaching staff shielding you for about 10 years until your physical and mental development is complete.

  6. Chris Sapien , March 28, 2013 at 7:31 p.m.

    Where are the facts to back any of these arguments up?? Certainly, there are those you could call less fortunate, but unless you have specific instances where nepotism was used as a discriminatory factor, your bleeding hearts would do better by putting your money where your mouthes are, and starting your own soccer academy foundation. You make your own way in life.

  7. Xavi Hernandez , April 1, 2013 at 11:51 p.m.

    Rather than proving a negative I'll stick with something that can be proven. A nation of 300M+, with 100s of thousands of kids playing soccer and 100s of millions spent on soccer, has yet to produce a single world-class player. Doesn't that at least hint that something is wrong?

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