Football

What happened to Michael Bradley, the former USMNT midfield star now in MLS?

Michael Bradley was one of the United States men’s national team’s most recognizable faces – and then his international career faded unceremoniously.

Michael Bradley did not seem to appreciate the question.

It came after the USMNT’s 2019 Gold Cup final defeat against Mexico, in what turned out to be the midfielder’s third-to-last international appearance. A reporter asked whether the loss meant the team had failed to shed its reputation as a joke in the soccer world. In 2017, of course, Bradley was in the squad that failed to reach the World Cup because of a stunning loss to Trinidad & Tobago. Players were ruthlessly mocked afterwards, a wound still fresh two years later.

“Gregg Berhalter stated before the tournament that you guys were on a mission to restore the respect for the USA team. What stage are you on that mission?” asked the TV reporter.

Bradley shook his head and responded: “Listen, we’re in the stage of five minutes after losing a final. We’ll stick together in this moment, and we’ll leave the rest to the days to come. Certainly proud of the group, proud of what we were about throughout the tournament. We continue to move forward.”

Except there would not be a “we” for the son of ex-USMNT coach Bob Bradley and a key part of the 2010 and 2014 World Cup teams, when the Stars and Stripes lost in the last 16. Michael Bradley soon discovered he wasn’t wanted, at least in the national team set-up, and had to accept that a group he captained would exist without him.

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Berhalter at first defended Bradley as a “quality” player amid calls for the midfielder to be exiled, but the manager ultimately decided to cut off the midfielder (and most of the older generation) in his quest to revive the USMNT before the 2022 World Cup.

Bradley didn’t officially retire from international soccer. He didn’t get a send-off. The red, white and blue colors simply moved on without him.

Fans can still catch the veteran control a game through his passing at club level with Toronto FC in MLS. He’s spent the past nine seasons there after being a long-serving representative of the United States in Europe with stops at Borussia Monchengladbach, Aston Villa and Roma. Even at 35 years old, he offered six goal contributions in 34 MLS appearances. His 3,049 league minutes played this past campaign were the highest tally of his career in any division.

His body of work is matched by few midfielders in the history of United States soccer. Imperfect, yes, but admirable for its longevity and multiple revivals.

As the USMNT begins its run in Qatar, Bradley’s name will no doubt be brought up again. He is mentioned in any conversation about the complicated arc of the 2010s, as well known as anyone outside of Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

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While his contributions should be celebrated, the team appears to be in a better place than it was a few years ago. It’s younger and at least in theory better built to match up with dynamic modern midfields. Weston McKennie (24 years old), Tyler Adams (23) and Yunus Musah (19) are the present and the future, and Bradley doesn’t have a place there.

But unlike the unfortunate, quiet end to his international career, Bradley will be able to determine when he hangs up his boots at club level. He can choose to go out on his terms in Toronto, a city that he adores – and that adores him right back. A proper ending for a proper player.

“Love it, love it,” he said about Toronto. “At this point it’s home. … My daughter was born here, my kids are in school, we live here year round. We love the city, love the people.”

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