The Stars and Stripes kick off their final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ with a tricky away day in Honduras. Michael Bradley, lynchpin of the USA midfield, took time out to chat candidly with FIFA.com before boarding the plane to San Pedro Sula.
On the menu of topics broached by the gritty 25-year-old battler were the particular difficulties of playing on the road in Central America, new US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a recent move to Italian giants Roma, and life in camp without influential playmaker Landon Donovan.
FIFA.com: The ‘Hexagonal’ round is always a complicated affair. Can you talk about this final round of qualifying in North, Central America and the Caribbean?
Michael Bradley: The Hexagonal is always tough, but I think it’s going to be even tougher this year. The teams taking part are the best six teams in CONCACAF. It’s going to be ten really challenging games. When we step on the field we have to be sure that we’re ready to give our best performances, to deal with every challenge along the way so that when the Hexagonal is over, we’re in the World Cup.
A first game on the road in Honduras isn’t exactly a dream start. What do you expect?
It’s a very difficult start. Honduras has gotten better, and they have some good young players coming through. Their crowd will push them; they’ll play on emotion. They’ll try to bring the crowd into the game as much as possible. But this is the beauty of World Cup qualifying. Growing up, you dream of playing in games like this, with everything on the line, with a big, loud crowd.
Playing on the road in CONCACAF sounds like tough stuff?
Going on the road to places like to Mexico, to Costa Rica, to Honduras you need to be prepared for about 50 things to go wrong from the moment you step off the plane to when you take off again. Poor fields, crowds that are loud and intimidating, issues in the hotel, whatever. There’s no use worrying about it, or complaining, because that’s just wasted energy. For the guys, like myself, who have been through it before, we know what it’s like. For the younger guys, they’ll have to figure it out quickly.
How do you cope in the face of such challenges?
The main thing is that we stick together, no matter what happens. These games on the road aren’t always the prettiest; they’re not always the days to put together your best soccer. There will be moments when our passion, dedication and commitment will have to see us through.
You’ll be without Landon Donovan, so often a key contributor in previous campaigns. What does his absence mean?
Not having Landon is something that we’re used to by now. He has been an important part of this team for many years, and I’ve been on the field with him for some big days. I take pride in that, and what we’ve done together. In his life he feels that he needs a little time to recover and figure out what comes next. At the same time, though, the game never stops. We're determined to use the group of guys we have to step out on the field and do everything to get to the World Cup.
The previous round brought a few bumps: a draw in Guatemala and a loss to Jamaica in Kingston. Are there changes that need to be made?
There’s always going to be hiccups along the way. A point on the road against Guatemala isn’t a great result, but it’s not a bad one either. And we went to Jamaica and on that given night, they beat us. They’re a good team and these things can happen. But what’s important is what comes after, and we went right back home and beat them to take our three points back. We claw and fight our way back into things.
You seem to have a lot of faith in the team’s ability to rebound from adversity?
I can’t overstate how much our mentality and commitment matters. Things are just so unpredictable in CONCACAF. We’ll go through different periods where things are good, and then they’re not good. There’ll be injuries and suspensions. Through all of this we stick together, no matter which 11 we have on the field.
This will be coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s first Hexagonal. Can you talk about how things have changed since he took the reins in 2011?
When a new coach comes in, there's always a feeling-out process. He’ll try to find the players that he can count on in difficult moments and the players try to understand his expectations. With a year and half to go before the World Cup, the hard work is really done. It’s an exciting time and we’ll have to fine-tune things, because that’s a never-ending process. But the foundation is there.
Your club career has taken you to the Netherlands, Germany and England. You signed with AS Roma, one of Italy’s top clubs, at the start of the season. Can you talk about life in Serie A?
To play for a club like Roma is a dream come true. When you talk about big clubs in the world, with tradition and passion and incredible support and history, Roma belongs right up at the top of that list. It’s been great for me. We ended the first half of the season with a good stretch of results, but since the January break we haven’t been where we need to be. We’re finding our footing again and we have an edge on AC Milan at the halfway mark of the Coppa Italia semi-final. If we can get into the final it would mean another derby with Lazio, and that would mean a lot to us.