No matter the situation Michael Bradley is placed in, the USA midfielder always appears to be composed on the ball and seemingly capable of besting any challenge thrown his way. These characteristics have helped mold Bradley into one of the Americans' most recognisable talents on the world stage, and national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is expected to rely on him to pull the strings for the Stars and Stripes at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively with Bradley shortly after making his debut for Toronto FC, whom he helped beat Seattle Sounders 2-1 to start the Major League Soccer season in style. While Bradley was focused with the task at hand with his new club, it was clear he had his sights set on Brazil 2014 as well.
“I feel good and excited about this stretch coming up,” he said when asked about the build-up ahead of Brazil 2014. “I’m working every day in training looking to improve, being sharp and getting fit.”
Bradley moved to Toronto in January in what many considered a surprise transfer from Italian Serie A club Roma, especially when Klinsmann has expressed his desire for as many of his players to feature in the world’s traditionally competitive leagues in order to prime themselves for the challenges that await at the World Cup. Having last played in MLS for the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (now New York Red Bulls) in 2005, Bradley said he was happy to be plying his trade back in the league where he broke into the professional ranks as a 16-year old, under the tutelage of father and coach Bob, the former USA and Egypt coach, who is now in charge of Stabaek in Norway.
To play in big games, to play with pressure, to play when the spotlight is on brightest - that’s what makes it fun.
“It’s a different league,” Bradley explained with a quiet confidence, not too dissimilar from the tone and demeanor his father is well known for exhibiting. “From the stadiums, the owners, the teams, the atmosphere… everything, I think it’s an exciting time to be back in North America.
“I had a little break, in the sense that there have been no competitive games during pre-season, but now at this point we’re playing every week with a few midweek games sprinkled in just like it would be in Europe leading up to the World Cup, so it couldn’t be better.”
Bradley’s return to MLS has meant the former Borussia Monchengladbach man has been able to square off against fellow USA team-mates such as Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, Columbus Crew’s Michael Parkhurst and the Sounders’ Clint Dempsey this season. He said: “Clint and I have a great relationship. He is a competitor and I am a competitor. I have a lot of respect for him."
Those relationships are being strengthened further now that Klinsmann has called in his provisional 30-man World Cup squad to a training camp at Stanford University in California to prepare for what promises to be a difficult journey through Group G, which also includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany. And like many others, Bradley expects *A Seleção *to be the team to beat at the world finals.
“I think anyone betting against Brazil - in their home country no less - could be in trouble,” he said. “I think they have a good team, and the enthusiasm that they’ll have playing at home is going to be something that’s going to be difficult to deal with.”
Bradley also acknowledged his passion to play when the stakes are highest. “It’s exciting, right?” Bradley said on the eve of his return to MLS, cracking a rare smile. “That’s why we all play. To play in big games, to play with pressure, to play when the spotlight is on brightest - that’s what makes it fun.”
Those sentiments will certainly ring even louder as Bradley and the rest of Klinsmann's charges enter the final stages of preparation for Brazil 2014, with the Stars and Stripes eagerly awaiting Ghana in their opening match on 16 June in Natal.