Bradley grows into U.S. leadership role

Michael Bradley (pictured) will be the 16th player in U.S. soccer history to earn 100 caps if he plays against Honduras in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on July 7, 2015. (Photo: Mexsport)

FRISCO, Texas -- Michael Bradley is on the verge of a special milestone.

When the midfielder next steps on the field for the United States, and that is likely to happen Tuesday night in the Gold Cup opener against Honduras as Toyota Stadium, it will be the 100th appearance for his country.

“I’m very proud,” Bradley said before training Sunday morning. “It’s special, for sure.”

And the 27-year-old will do so after being named the team’s captain for the tournament by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann late last week.

He inherits the post – at least temporarily -- from Clint Dempsey, who was suspended from the Seattle Sounders in the wake of a disciplinary incident in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on June 16.

“Certainly when you talk about pride and honor and responsibility, that (being named captain) only adds to it,” expressed Bradley. “But as I’ve touched on this week, at this point, I’m not making any more of that than needs to be.”

Bradley also wears the armband for his club, Toronto FC, but the duties that come along with it don’t change who he is as a person.

“I am who I am regardless of whether I’m the captain or not,” Bradley said. “I come in to any team I’m a part of and ready to take responsibility, ready to give everything I have for my teammates and for the team. In any good team you want as many guys like that as possible. That’s always been the strength of this team.”

What makes the moment even more meaningful for Bradley is that the United States national team was the team he supported when he was younger because traditional club options were scarce.

“For guys in and around my age, the MLS wasn’t around right when we started being able to watch soccer,” he noted. “Aside from being able to watch certain games from Europe, the national team was the team you got to watch.”

With his father Bob as head coach, Michael was signed by the MetroStars at the age of 16 and became the youngest player ever sold by Major League Soccer, when we was transferred to SC Heerenveen in 2006.

He scored 16 league goals for the Dutch Eredivisie side during the 2007/08 season, before moving on to Borussia Monchengladbach, Chievo and Roma. In 2014, Bradley returned to MLS to compete for Toronto FC in 2014.

His national team debut came against Venezuela as a substitute in a 2006 friendly, eventually becoming a regular fixture in the side coached by his father. Bradley was a starter on the team that won the 2007 Gold Cup, although he was sent off in the semifinal against Canada.

He scored a pair of goals in a critical 2-0 win over Mexico in a 2010 World Cup qualifier and found the back of the net against Slovenia in that World Cup. Bradley also struck in the 2011 Gold Cup final, a 4-2 loss to Mexico.

“You grow up watching the US play, watching them play in big games and at a certain point just to have the opportunity to play one game is a dream come true,” Bradley said. “To be able to be a part of it for a lot of years, to play in some big games, to be on the field for some special moments, it means a lot.”

Bradley has been the anchor of the United States midfielder for Klinsmann since 2012 and he is not only serving as the team’s captain, but also an inspiration to the squad’s younger players.

“I think he’s really moved himself up the ranks over the years,” said U.S. defender Greg Garza said. “I think the hard work and ability he has to be really mentally tough. I think for all of us young guys coming up the ranks, he’s a wonderful guy to really follow in his footsteps.”