Too young to order a beer in his native USA, 20-year-old Michael Bradley is already displaying a startling level of maturity and versatility.
For his national team the youngster slots into a holding midfield role as if he were born to snuff out opposition attacks and purvey the prosaic disruptive arts. However, with Heerenveen in the Dutch top-flight, he finished this season as club top scorer, grabbing no less than 18 in all competitions. The haul, which helped his team to a fifth-place finish, broke the record previously held by Brian McBride for goals scored in a single season by an American player in Europe.
When FIFA.com asked him which position he prefers, young Bradley's response was somewhat surprising. "I see myself as being more of a defensive midfielder," said the son of national team manager Bob Bradley. "Yes, I enjoy scoring goals, but I also enjoy breaking up the play and long-term I feel I have better qualities in the centre of the field."
The New Jersey-born star played the holding role to perfection for the USA at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, where his match-winning goal against Uruguay helped them to the quarter-finals. He arrived in Canada days after helping the American senior side to a fourth CONCACAF Gold Cup crown; though he missed the final against Mexico in Chicago after being sent off in a bruising semi with Canada.
Bradley, just 20, has already amassed 19 caps for the full senior team and after two seasons in the Dutch top flight, he is attracting interest from established sides in the English Premier League, Everton and Newcastle among them.
A move to England would well suit the powerful player, measuring in at over six-feet tall. "I'd love to play in the Premier League," he smiled. "I'm aware of the rumours currently going around, and hopefully something will work out on that score. ."
A move could take place during this close season with only a year remaining on his contract at Heerenveen. However, the youngster, who left for Dutch shores at only 17 after a season with New York in MLS, sees Europe as a move that would benefit all young American players.
"I fully recommend moving across to Europe for other young American players. The game here is different. In the top leagues the games are tougher, quicker, faster and harder than they are in the MLS," he said. "The more guys we can get playing in these type of games, the better I think we will do as a national team."
Currently in an extended training camp with the USA which brought a pair of losses to England and Spain, Bradley sees the stiff competition against some of Europe's better sides as critical in the young team's development.
"Playing against some of the best players in the world can only help us," Bradley added after a 2-0 defeat to England at Wembley that drew heavy criticism for the USA. "Unfortunately, where we are geographically means that we play a lot of games against weaker opponents in CONCACAF. We have to: those are the games that get us to the World Cup."
Road to South Africa
The Americans begin their qualifying campaign on 15 June with a game against Caribbean hopefuls Barbados in Los Angeles, the return leg coming seven days later in Bridgetown.
Bradley, for one, is hoping it's the first step toward his debut FIFA World Cup™ in 2010.
"I'd love to play in the World Cup in South Africa, but
it seems very far away at the moment. We need to learn lessons from
these games in Europe and take them on board for our qualifiers.
We're quietly confident of getting there with this squad, but
there is a lot of football to be played between now and then."
Bradley and the Americans will have one more friendly, against Argentina, on Sunday in New York.