The USA could hardly have made a better start to the final round of qualifying in North, Central America and the Caribbean. They beat arch-rivals Mexico 2-0 at home in mid-February to go top of the CONCACAF final round standings, a crucial victory attributable in no small part to Bundesliga star Michael Bradley.
The 21-year-old son of USA national coach Bob Bradley scored both goals in Columbus, emerging as the undisputed man of the match against El Tri. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder cut a distinctly modest figure as he surveyed his country’s forthcoming ties against El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. Bradley also shed light on the relationship between himself and his father, and assessed his struggling club’s chances of staying in the German top flight.
FIFA.com: You made the perfect start to the decisive final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The USA beat Mexico 2-0, and you scored both goals. What’s your take on the game, with the benefit of hindsight?
Michael Bradley: Games against Mexico are always a bit special for us. We’re the top two in CONCACAF, and the rivalry is very strong. They’re special games for the players, and there’s always a terrific atmosphere at the stadium. We played well as a team that evening and made it very tough for Mexico. Even when you win as a team, someone has to score the goals. I was delighted my two goals ended up helping the team.
Your second match takes place on 28 March when the USA travel to El Salvador, who started with a draw against Trinidad and Tobago. How would you rate your opponents and the game in general?
Away games in the CONCACAF region often take place in stadiums which aren’t exactly the greatest, on a less than perfect pitch, and the weather’s sometimes a problem too. A lot of different factors can have an impact on a match. We need to go there and play as a team. To be very honest with you, I don’t know a lot about El Salvador. I saw the highlights of their first match, they came back from 2-0 down and rescued a point. They’ve always had individuals who are good on the ball. We need to show them respect, but this kind of team doesn’t like it when you put them under pressure.
You then take on Trinidad and Tobago at home in Nashville four days later. What are your thoughts on the meeting with the Soca Warriors?
We always respect Trinidad. Dwight Yorke and others have had great careers in Europe. They have some good young guys who still play at home. They have a good blend of experience and youthful talent. They’re a very athletic team, so it’s always difficult against Trinidad.
When you turn out for the national team, you’re playing under your father Bob Bradley. How would you describe your relationship?
When it comes to playing, it’s no different to any other coach, and I’m no different to any other player. He wants the best for the team, and he puts everything into that. My dad treats every player the same, and makes the same demands of us all – both on and off the field. That goes for me too. Everyone on the team knows that, which is why the atmosphere’s so good.
The USA have been on a run of success over many years now. You’ve qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals every time since 1990, and won three of the last four CONCACAF Gold Cups. How would you assess the progress in the American game?
It’s definitely improved. If you look at our team and see who’s playing for which teams in Europe, it’s got to be positive. Having this kind of experience in the national team is good for us. The 2002 World Cup was a terrific success for the USA [who reached the quarter-finals but lost to Germany]. But 2006 was unsatisfactory [with an exit at the group stage], although we did draw with eventual world champions Italy. We’ve played well against strong opposition a few times over the years, but we know we’re not there yet, and we continue to push ourselves very hard .
The US will contest the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 this summer. What are your expectations of the tournament?
It’s a terrific chance for us to play in South Africa’s World Cup stadiums. It’s a dress rehearsal of sorts a year ahead of the World Cup, and it’s tremendous to be facing fantastic teams like Brazil, Italy or Egypt.
You’ll certainly come up against the best the world has to offer. The USA currently lie 17th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Where do you see US football in global terms?
I think we’ve worked very hard as a team over the last two years. We’ve held our own against the best teams in the world, in games against Brazil, Argentina and Mexico for example. We have to keep working together towards our targets.
In 1994, you witnessed at first hand the effect a FIFA World Cup can have on developing the game in the host nation. What could the 2010 finals do for the African continent, and specifically for host nation South Africa?
It’s a tremendous opportunity. The World Cup is a fantastic experience for everyone involved in every respect. In some parts of the world, time seems to stand still when the World Cup is on. It can only be good for South Africa to be the centre of world attention.
You were the youngest US player ever to make the switch to Europe when you arrived in 2005. How tough was the transition from Major League Soccer to the Dutch Eredivisie?
I already had some international experience with the national team, and I completed a full season in the MLS. When I was offered a move to Heerenveen in the Netherlands, it meant my dream of playing in Europe came true. I was overjoyed at the time.
You joined promoted Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga at the start of the season. Why did you opt to leave Heerenveen and move to Germany?
The Netherlands is a great place for young players to gain valuable experience. But if you’re offered the chance to continue your development at a better club in a better league, you have to react. The Bundesliga is a terrific league, the stadiums are full every week, and the games are very intense. It’s important for me to show what I can do at a bigger club, and I’m grateful to Borussia Monchengladbach for putting their faith in me.
However, it’s proving a struggle for Borussia this season, as the club is mired in a battle against relegation. Why should you and your team-mates preserve your top flight status?
It’s been a roller-coaster ride this term. We’re already on our third coach this season. But the mood in the dressing room is very positive. Everyone at the club is 100 per cent convinced we’ll stay in the Bundesliga. If we continue to perform at the level we’ve achieved in recent weeks, we’ll still be in the Bundesliga next season.