Commentary

Michael Bradley, the leader, seeks a trophy

The youngest and the oldest players on the U.S. national team – and the head coach -- speak very similarly about captain Michael Bradley, who on Wednesday aims to lead the USA to the 2017 Gold Cup title.

“He’s a guy who not only works hard on the field, but also behind the scenes,” says 38-year-old Tim Howard. “He’s the epitome of a captain.”

Bradley, who turns 30 later this month, made his first of 135 appearances for the USA in 2006. Howard had debuted in 2002.

“He’s only ever thinking about the team, about soccer, and about how we can get better – each and every day, off the field, in training -- and part of being a good leader is going out on the field when the whistle blows and being accountable,” Howard says. “And he’s done that time and time again.”

Bradley was one of the veterans, along with Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, whom Coach Bruce Arena brought into Gold Cup squad after testing newer players in the group stage.

“If you know Michael Bradley, you know everything’s important to Michael Bradley,” says Arena. “He’s a very serious professional. He makes my job easier because we have a very focused individual. A focused captain.”

For Bradley, this tournament has special meaning. In 2007, he started for the USA in the Gold Cup until he was suspended for its final victory over Mexico. He wasn’t part of the 2013 Gold Cup win. He’s played in two World Cups. He’s been part of two qualifying campaigns in which the USA finished first in Concacaf, but that isn’t celebrated with silverware. Last season his Toronto FC finished runner-up in MLS Cup.


Veterans Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley with assistant coach Dave Sarachan.

Against Jamaica, Bradley has a chance to lift a championship trophy. If the USA succeeds, it will be partly because Arena has integrated youngsters like 22-year-olds Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta into the team.

“He’s extremely easy to play with,” says Arriola. “He does everything right. Off the field, he’s a wonderful professional, a wonderful person. Easy to talk to, like a lot of the guys here.

“Michael has been one of the guys where when you come in, he just makes you feel comfortable. He knows how to communicate. And that’s a quality that’s very important. There are a lot of people these days who lack the communication skills – really knowing the people they’re communicating with, and Michael is the perfect man.”

Acosta, who turned 22 on Monday, started in midfielder alongside Bradley in last month’s 1-1 tie at Azteca Stadium in front of 71,000 fans.

“He makes me a better player,” says Acosta. “He wants to better the team in every which way possible. … He tells me, play how I do in Dallas. Keep it simple and don’t put too much pressure on myself.”

Arena says he’s especially impressed that Bradley, at his age, “continues to grow as a player.” And Arena has known Bradley for quite a while.

“I’ve known Michael since he’s a baby,” Arena said. “I probably saw him the week he was born.”

That’s because Arena and Michael’s father, Bob Bradley, go way back. Bradley assisted Arena in 1983-84 at the University of Virginia, in 1996-97 with D.C. United, and at the 1996 Olympics.

“He’s inherited a lot of his father’s qualities,” says Arena, who after his first stint as USA coach was succeeded by Bob Bradley. “He’s a very dedicated professional who understands a lot of things outside the lines, which has helped him as a player as well. He’s been terrific in that sense.”

Arena’s son, Kenny, now a U.S. national team assistant coach, played soccer on the beach with Michael when the families took annual vacations together and they reunited when they spent a season together with the MetroStars in 2004. Kenny is six years older.

“One of the great things about Michael, he always had great technical ability,” says Kenny Arena. “He was very much on the smaller side. Then he sprouted. When I saw him at the MetroStars, he had combined all the great technical ability, determination and work ethic with physical ability.”

Arriola also started in the Azteca game, when Bradley scored one of the greatest goals in U.S. national team history.


“He really brings us up when we’re down,” says Arriola. “And he can do things, like he did in Mexico. If there’s any other way to lead a team, he could do it.”

For his part, Bradley says he isn’t thinking about the Gold Cup final he missed in 2007 or the 2011 Gold Cup final he played in, when Mexico beat the USA, 4-2.

“No,” he says. “I want to win because I want to win. I want to win because that’s why you play. To win medals, to lift trophies, that’s what it’s all about.

“You don’t get many of these opportunities in your career. We know that, and we have a group of guys who are excited and motivated.”

30 comments about "Michael Bradley, the leader, seeks a trophy".
  1. R2 Dad, July 26, 2017 at 6:42 a.m.

    There is so much wrong with this whole thing. Dave Sarachan is old, hasn't won anything, and yet is advising USMNT players. “I’ve known Michael since he’s a baby,” Arena said--nepotism is alive and well. "Arena’s son, Kenny, now a U.S. national team assistant coach"--more nepotism. Top coaches need not apply, only compliant yes men. "“One of the great things about Michael, he always had great technical ability,” says Kenny Arena."--more drinking the Koolaid. So we got rid of Klinsmann for this? The good old boys and their children patting themselves on the back, desperate to win meaningless trophies?

  2. Miguel Dedo replied, July 26, 2017 at 10:14 a.m.

    How sad! Some people are never satisfied unless they are bitter. I can think of nothing worse than to be the son or daughter of "R2 Dad."

  3. :: SilverRey :: replied, July 26, 2017 at 10:20 a.m.

    R2, so are trophies meaningless or not. Your first sentence says they have value to you.

  4. Brian Kraft replied, July 26, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.

    We got rid of Klinsmann so we could get a coach and win games. It worked! Coaches make better coaches than legends or saviors.

  5. Brian Kraft replied, July 26, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.

    Btw Dave Sarachan is an assistant coach and as such has won multiple trophies working with Bruce Arena. Tell us, R2Dad, where is Klinsmann coaching now?

  6. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 12:20 p.m.

    Miguel, my kids would completely agree!

  7. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 12:23 p.m.

    Silver, not all trophies are equal. In fact, the Gold Cup is one of the least desirable/significant tournaments to win. It's the only tournament I know that let's you change the roster half-way through--basically recognition of its third-rate status.

  8. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 12:31 p.m.

    Brian, JK was not the be-all and end-all, but was definitely a step up from Bradley/Arena et al. He does, in fact, understand losing, winning, training, league/UEFA cup/world cup requirements. Sarachan, by association winning MLS titles (especially in the early days) carries almost no weight. I'd like out players to learn from the best. Sarachan is most certainly not that.

  9. :: SilverRey :: replied, July 26, 2017 at 12:52 p.m.

    The USMNT has four chances to bring home hardware: the World Cup, the Confed Cup, the Olympics, and the Gold Cup - the first three of which have 30 player rosters. 23+6 is right in line with those tournaments. Bring home the Gold Cup US!!!!

  10. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 26, 2017 at 3:29 p.m.

    The second Gold Cup in a cycle is not a big deal. I agree with that. The rest of R2Dad's post makes him sound bitter. It's so much more fun to watch the USMNT under Bruce than JK. So glad that guy is gone.

  11. Brian Kraft replied, July 26, 2017 at 6:49 p.m.

    By your logic every proven great player makes a better coach than actual coaches. In reality that is observably and measurably almost the opposite of the truth. Please enumerate the superstars of the sport who have coached successfully for any period of time. Klinsmann was a laughingstock at Bayern and left the US job in absolute disgrace. (Arena has yet to lose a game, because he is a coach.) And as for his success with Germany? They have made the quarters each of the last 16 world cups, the semis 12, and the final 8, winning 4. Losing a semi at home is not good. R2Dad: "They had a young squad." Like the one that just simultaneously won the Confederations Cup and a youth World Cup. It's Germany. R2Dad: "Those don't count." Haha.

  12. R2 Dad replied, July 27, 2017 at 6:03 a.m.

    "Please enumerate the superstars of the sport who have coached successfully for any period of time." Perhaps you've recently heard of one of these guys?: Guardiola, Zidane, Conte, Simeone, Ancelloti? Or even the person most influential in football over the past 50 years, Johan Cruyff? Any of them might count. Or maybe not, if you only follow MLS.

  13. Brian Kraft replied, July 27, 2017 at 7:40 a.m.

    That's a great list! On that list, would you place Klinsmann above or below Maradona?

  14. R2 Dad replied, July 27, 2017 at 10:41 a.m.

    Above Arena and Bradley.

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 27, 2017 at 12:11 p.m.

    Really? What has JK done as a coach that is more impressive than Arena and Bradley? He coached both Germany and the US to, at best, par results in the world cup and failed miserably at Bayern. That's it.

  16. Eric Mills, July 26, 2017 at 9:26 a.m.

    Michael Bradley has consistently received the praise of his teammates and coaches on every team he has been a part of, from Borussia Monchengladbach to Roma to Toronto FC to the USMNT. That consistent praise carries more credibility than tired, recycled accusations of nepotism.

  17. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

    Riiiiiiight, Eric, because those associates always feel free to give an honest assessment for the media. The only people you hear players/coaches complaining about are the referees and agents, or once in a blue moon when a Dani Alves waits for two subsequent transfers to let loose on Barca management for alleged poor treatment.

  18. Kent James, July 26, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.

    Articles like this are important, because they allow fans to see how things work within the team, which is not easy to see just by watching the games (I certainly wanted to hear how the players viewed JK). I understand the original concerns about nepotism when Bob Bradley first brought MB into the team; the coach's son?? It's something you expect to see at the youth level (and it's often unhealthy there). So I was skeptical, to say the least. But once I watched him play, it was clear to me that he deserved to be there. MB has been the foundation of the national team for something like the last decade, and this article explains why.

  19. R2 Dad, July 26, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    MB has been given a hall pass. Coaches like continuity, MB knows the drill, he's played in Europe and was certainly much better at Roma than the version we have now. He plays d-mid and used to be the unofficial attacking mid in the 4-4-2 before JK relegated him to d-mid. The problem is 60% of his passes are back passes. The job of the d-mid as it is played by the USMNT is, with your back to the goal, track back to receive the ball from the centerback, then turn, face the opponent and dribble them. MB cannot do this, and therefore cannot perform the duties of the position. Instead, he backpasses to other backs to recycle the ball, which eventually gets worked up the side or booted forward. The team is limited by his inability to do this one thing. Watch him in isolation and count the backpasses. Yes, he can pass some, Yes, he has scored some good goals (eg recently in Azteca), but we settle for journeymen when we should be advancing more skilled players. Not "athletes", not the progeny of coaches, not the incumbents. So, sorry to rain on the Michael Bradley parade. Everyone here can now return to drinking the koolaid.

  20. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 26, 2017 at 3:31 p.m.

    Bob Bradley played an "empty bucket" with two interchangeable box to box type central mids. JK played MB has a 10 even though that did not play to his strengths because he's JK and he played everyone out of position to prove how smart he is. Now Michael is back in a more to which he is better suited and playing well.

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 26, 2017 at 3:36 p.m.

    By the way, who should be playing for the USMNT instead of Bradley? Same as Altidore - lots of complaining but it seems pretty clear he's still the best we have.

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, July 27, 2017 at 11:13 p.m.

    The suggestion that, when qualification was on death's door, Arena would give anyone a hall pass has me rolling on the floor laughing.

  23. Chance Hall, July 26, 2017 at 1:14 p.m.

    I know some folks will view my comments as just another old frustrated soccer coach, but here goes. As some of you may remember I have not been on the MB train. When playing for the USMNT his constant back passes, and passing to the other team in front of our goal has caused my blood pressure to go through the roof on way too many occasions. However, the US coaches somehow fail to see this game after game. So, here we are on game day and I'm sure he will not only start but also be captain yet again. So I have no choice except to cheer for him since he is on the team. Once more into the fire - Go USA!!!

  24. James Griffin, July 26, 2017 at 1:35 p.m.

    Have to agree with R2 and Sidney. Michael did not play for Roma the way he plays for USA. He reminds me of Beckerman whose touches were almost always backwards. MB has adopted those tactics and rarely looks to goal. His back passes are only eclipsed by his boring, predictable deadballs. He did score an Olympico once, and has never attempted a repeat since. At least at Azteca he showed that he knows how to shoot from distance and press an attack. If he would repeat this action, maybe he would become the Midfielder we need. Arena is not the greatest of coaches but he is American and he manages the players well. I blame him for the missed penalty kicks. The attitude that "it doesn't matter who takes it as long as he scores" is poor coaching. Penalty kicks are deadball situations and must be religiously practiced. Practice makes permanent. The coach should pick the kicker, since he will ultimately be blamed if they miss.Among all the pros on our team, he can surely find one or two who will dedicate themselves to handling the pressure and to technical execution. Regardless, I am with Sidney.... Go USA.

  25. James Froehlich, July 26, 2017 at 1:52 p.m.

    R2 and Sidney. I am pretty much in total agreement regarding MB. While I do believe that he deserves his place on the NT, his capabilities have been much enhanced by a fawning media and a soccer establishment looking for a star to latch onto. From an international perspective, he is "competent". Yes, he has periodically delivered some beautiful through-balls! And, yes, he has periodically scored some nice goals. However, neither of those accomplishments warrants the adulation that the media constantly heaps on him. He is a big fish in the very small pond called US Soccer. The reason that this misplaced praise bothers me is that it shows a national inability to recognize real exceptional talent. It is that inability that allows us to cheer the fullback who blasts the ball 60 yards to no one and ignore the midfielders who combine with short, quick, accurate passes to escape 3 or 4 defenders. Listen to the La Liga fans who constantly applaud great technical moves in the midfield, far from a score and find comparable moments at US games.

  26. Kent James, July 26, 2017 at 2:27 p.m.

    I don't think anyone is suggesting MB is the world's greatest player, but he deserves credit for what he does, not criticism the player he's not. He will never carry the ball forward consistently (like Nagbe does), or dribble through 3 or 4 guys. He will occasionally turn the ball over in a bad spot (since he is usually handling the ball in areas where it will be bad if he turns it over). He has s difficult job, in that he is constantly trying to turn with the ball (receiving it from the backs, turning with it to feed the forwards), usually with 2 or 3 guys around him. Most of the time he does it well, but when he doesn't, it gets noticed. But what he does do get the ball from the defense (sometimes I think he goes too far back to get it), and distribute it pretty consistently well; sure, some are back passes, and some are long balls, both of which he gets criticized for, but sometimes back passes are necessary to maintain possession, and the occasional long ball can get behind the defense. He covers a lot of ground defensively, in an area that the team needs covered. And I think what you get from the article, is that he helps the players around him play better. He has also been a mainstay on the USMNT for 3 different coaches (BB, JK & BA), so he's clearly doing something right.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, July 26, 2017 at 3:18 p.m.

    Well said Kent. It will be a great loss to future players and the sport if Bradley doesn't take up coaching after he retires. Players who organize and see the field from the back--keepers, CBs, holding midfielders--often go on to become coaches, most of them quietly working in the background in player development. There are actually quite a few players in the national team pools I hope will coach.

  28. Fire Paul Gardner Now, July 26, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    Lots of the typical self-loathing American soccer fan in this thread. The thinking goes like this: MB is terrible because he's American. But he played for Roma (which normally must mean he was good)? Well, yeah he was good then but now he's bad because playing in MLS automatically makes you a bad player.

  29. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 5:34 p.m.

    Nope. Your reductionist line of reasoning ignores lots of moving parts: 1) MB career trajectory, 2) quality of Roma players/staff/training/competition over any MLS club, 3)the general optimism of the american soccer fan, 4) the increased expectations of the general public over the past 20 years.

  30. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 27, 2017 at 12:12 p.m.

    I am parroting your reductionist line of thinking. Please explain the remainder of your post.

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