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Reunited with Fellow Stars, Michael Bradley Opens Up

Playing alongside Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey for the first time in nearly two years, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley spoke about Wednesday's Mexico match and the next generation.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 31, 2014
10:28 PM
PHOENIX—It may seem like the core of the United States national team has been around for a long time: Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey have combined for an astonishing 339 caps and 104 goals for the United States over the past decade or so. But it has been a good long while since all three have been on the field together.

U.S. fans should be both encouraged and concerned with the lack of time the team’s core has played together under U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. On the one hand, Klinsmann has yet to have his full arsenal of players at his disposal. On the other, now that these talents are finally together, the coach has a a few months to figure out how to best use them.

If Bradley, Donovan, and Dempsey play together on Wednesday against Mexico, it will be their first time playing together since June 12, 2012—a 1-1 draw against Guatemala. Before you get too excited, consider this: Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan and Jozy Altidore have yet to start a game together since Klinsmann took over.

Bradley, 26, is fully aware of the lack of time he has spent with Dempsey and Donovan, and is excited about the opportunity to play alongside his countrymen.

“It’s exciting, for sure,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t seem like it has been quite that long but it’d be good to hopefully get us back on the field together on Wednesday and hopefully a good chance to get a game against a good quality team before the summer.”

Klinsmann is equally relieved about the reunion. Having his top players together will likely pay dividends as the World Cup approaches.

“It’s great,” Klinsmann said. “There will be discussions, talks over the next couple of days with those three and the experienced guys because obviously in the back of our minds it’s already the middle of May when we go into camp for the World Cup. For them now it’s an opportunity to kind of show that on the field Wednesday night. When you kind of have this senior leadership role, or call it whatever you want, then you have to confirm that on the field—which is the fun part.”

Dempsey, Donovan, and Bradley have all had wide ranging careers. Donovan played in Europe during his early years but moved back to MLS in 2005 and settled—short-term loans aside—ever since. Dempsey was the best-ever American field player in the Premier League during his time at Fulham and Tottenham, but returned to MLS last summer at the age of 30.

Like Dempsey and Donovan, Bradley recently returned to MLS, where he began his career. But while Donovan came back before he reached his prime and Dempsey came back after it, Bradley returned to North America at the age of 26—during his peak years.

For most of the past decade, the first-choice U.S. national team primarily consisted of players based abroad, with MLS players supplementing the core. When looking at the potential starting lineup Wednesday night against Mexico, the dynamic has changed. In addition to Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan, players like Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Graham Zusi could all be starting in the first group stage game at the World Cup against Mexico.

Bradley notices the difference but insists that the mentality of the team is the same—and that is the focal point.

“The dynamic within the team doesn’t change at all,” Bradley explained. “It is interesting now in this past stretch that it’s kind of shifted that way a little bit to now where if you’re playing a game with the domestic guys it’s your core group of guys, whereas in a lot of years it was the opposite. Again, what’s important is when the entire group gets together, the mentality is good, the spirit is good, and things get taken care of in that way.”

With the news on Monday that Puebla would not release Michael Orozco and DaMarucs Beasley to the U.S. national team, the game against Mexico is likely to resemble a contest that pits Liga Mx against MLS. There is one notable exception, however: Bayern Munich starlet Julian Green will be in the mix too.

Bradley has seen many German-American players come through the pipeline into the U.S. team. As someone who spent years playing for Borussia Monchengladbach, he knows the dynamics of the youth system in the Bundesliga.

While Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan represent the core of the present U.S. squad, the roster for the upcoming game includes youngsters Green, Luis Gil, and DeAndre Yedlin—each of whom could represent the core of the team in the years ahead.

Gil has been a mainstay of U.S. youth national teams since his residency, while Yedlin was a late-bloomer who emerged late in the cycle with the 2013 U.S. U-20 team. Aside from an appearance with the U.S U-18 team in 2012, Green is a relative newcomer to American soccer. He filed his one-time switch with FIFA earlier this month, and Bradley, for one, is happy to have Green with the national team.

“We’re excited to have him,” Bradley said of Green. “[He’s a] very young player but a guy who has shown that even at a young age that he has good starting points and a lot of quality. So we’re all excited to get to know him a little bit in these few days. Get the process going of showing him what it’s like to be in this team.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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