photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
PASADENA, Calif. – Since making his debut for the U.S. men's national team in May 2006, Michael Bradley has played in 58 matches at the international level. Bradley has played in numerous big-stage friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup and Confederations Cup games and World Cup matches.
Yet when Bradley steps onto the field at the Rose Bowl on tonight against Mexico, he'll do something he's never done before, and something he's eager to do: play in an international final.
Having been a big part of the U.S. teams that made respective runs to the 2007 Gold Cup final and 2009 Confederations Cup final, Bradley has missed out on the championship games due to yellow card accumulation. That won't be the case this time, and is something that will benefit the Americans almost as greatly as it will satisfy Bradley's hunger to play in a final.
"Yeah, for sure," said Bradley when asked if he's looking forward to the game a bit more than most of his teammates. "I've said a few times now, finals, they don't come around every day. Maybe in your career if you're lucky you get a chance to play in a couple.
"I've obviously missed two, but now the opportunity to step on the field on a big occasion with a trophy at stake, and it's something I'm really looking forward to."
Bradley has enjoyed a fairly strong Gold Cup, as he has been an imposing will defensively and a strong link between the offense and defense. But as has been the case for much of his time with the U.S. team, Bradley still has a collection of doubters and critics. He hasn't allowed that to get the best of him though, as he continuously does his job and proves more often than not that he's an asset to the team.
His teammates know that, too.
"Michael, for such a young kid, he's so experienced," said Tim Howard. "He's been unlucky (not to play in a final). The big games don't phase him, he plays like a veteran player. As far as tough, hard-nosed players go, he'll top the list (in the final)."
Bradley's toughness and tenacity will be needed alongside Jermaine Jones, who also brings a certain attitude to him, in the heart of the U.S. midfield. The two central midfielders have a big task at hand against Mexico, needing to help stymie Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos while also doing enough offensively to keep their central midfield counterparts, Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro, honest.
"In big games a lot of times who can win the midfield goes a long way," said Bradley. "In the tournament, so far, we've done a pretty good job of that, putting pressure on the other team and really making it hard for them in the center of the field.
"(In the final) it will be even more important that we can set the tone, win the battles in there and really make them feel like things aren't going to come easy."
It is rare for the United States to ever make things easy for archrival Mexico, and with Bradley in the lineup for his first ever final on Saturday, there's a good chance the midfield battle will be as tough as ever,