The emotions will run deep for Toronto FC star midfielder Michael Bradley as he lines up for the U.S. against Ghana at the World Cup on Monday.
“Representing your country is such an incredible honour. For any athlete to be able to walk out on a field, on a court, representing your country, wearing the colours, hearing the national anthem before the game,” Bradley said. “It’s the biggest thing that any of us do, because you’re representing an entire nation – and everything that goes along with that. It’s a responsibility, it’s an honour and it’s something that gives us all such great pride.
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“To do that at a World Cup is hard to describe, standing on the field at a World Cup, listening to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ Looking around, seeing all the American fans there supporting us. Looking in the stands and seeing your wife and your mom and your sisters and everybody that means so much to you, it’s a powerful thing.”
It doesn’t take long to find out that there is depth to Bradley on and off the field.
Signed from Roma in the off-season, Bradley has quickly proved to be Toronto FC’s fulcrum. He is equally important to the U.S. national team, a box-to-box midfield general who sets the tone.
Just 26, Bradley enters the tournament with 86 caps to rank 20th on the U.S. all-time list. His next appearance will bump him up one place on that ledger, tying him with Steve Cherundolo.
He earned the 10th assist of his national team career in a 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria on June 7 to tie for 12th all-time with Cherundolo, Chris Henderson, Brian McBride and Earnie Stewart.
Bradley played every minute for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the Americans were knocked out 2-1 by Ghana after extra time in the round of 16.
He scored a crucial 82nd-minute goal to give the U.S. a 2-2 tie with Slovenia and covered more than 35 kilometres during group play. It was the third most at the tournament, according to FIFA’s player tracking.
Ghana also beat the U.S. at the 2006 tournament, knocking them out of contention for the knockout round with a 2-1 win in the final game of the group stage.
For Bradley, whose father Bob coached the 2010 national team, the World Cup in South Africa was special.
“We played in a way that when people back home watched, they were proud to watch us. They identified with us. That saw a team that fought for each other, that never gave up – even if things didn’t come easy or didn’t come quickly, gave everything it had for each other until the bitter end. Hopefully we are ready to do that again and take it a step or two farther, even in a difficult group.”
In Brazil, the 13th-ranked Americans must deal with No. 2 Germany, No. 4 Portugal and No. 37 Ghana in the group stage.
Rather than complain about the degree of difficulty such a challenge entails, Bradley talks of “an incredible opportunity.”
“There’s a quiet confidence amongst us,” he said. “If we can be as mentally and physically sharp as we can be, we have a real chance.”
Bradley, one of five members of the U.S team with World Cup experience (alongside Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard), expects the tournament to be welcomed back home by more fans than ever before.
With expanded television coverage of the sport on a weekly basis, the appetite for soccer’s biggest showcase has grown in North America.
“Everything stops,” for the World Cup, he said.
It’s an interesting phenomenon for players at the tournament, who are largely kept away from the hubbub.
“As a player, you’re there and it’s a dream come true. But in some many ways, it’s business as usual,” Bradley said in an interview prior to arriving in Brazil. “In so many ways now, it’s not unlike any other camp with the national team. There’s training, there’s meals together, there’s meetings, there’s gym sessions. And you’re doing all the same things that you normally do, only it’s a World Cup.”
In South Africa, the Americans stayed in a beautiful, peaceful lodge outside of Johannesburg.
“Only when we spoke to our friends and family back home, only when we went on the Internet, on Facebook, on Twitter did you really start to then understand what was going on back home and how excited people were … it’s an incredible feeling to know you’re a part of something that has that power.”
The goal is to take that excitement and take it even further, he said.
Bradley says his decision to return to MLS this season has positioned him well for the tournament, in terms of fitness and readiness. His only regret has been missing matches for Toronto.
© The Canadian Press, 2014