US midfielder Michael Bradley, in action last week during the team's 1-0 win over Italy. (AP Photo/Tanopress)

Michael Bradley has earned his spot. Again. (And he’s learning new languages, too)

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For whatever reason, it seemed before that Michael Bradley had to do extra to earn his place on Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team.

Bradley played sparingly as the Klinsi got rolling last year. The scowling midfielder did start against Mexico during the manager’s splashy August debut, but didn’t find his name on the lineup for the next five matches. (None of those were impressive results, by the way.) Bradley appeared off the bench in two of those contests, and then did get back into the lineup as the Americans beat Slovenia, finally turning up a little offense in a 3-2 triumph over the tiny Balkans nation.

We don’t need to talk about the two USMNT friendlies to open 2012; those are for fringe national teamers, like Dynamo center back Geoff Cameron and former MLS defender Michael Parkhurst, both of whom shined in wins over Venezuela and Panama, winning subsequent spots on last week’s roster against Italy.

Bradley was on the roster, too. And he started. And he hardly looked out of his element, more than holding his own against one of the world’s top nations. Not that any of that should surprise anyone – not anyone who has watched the United States objectively over the last few years.

Not everyone can be. Clearly “objectivity” is a concept lost on some folks. So claims of nepotism were endemic in some circles during the previous World Cup cycle when Bradley’s father, Bob Bradley, ran the team.  But straining to make a case that Michael Bradley wasn’t earning his chops, independent of dad’s position, landed somewhere between “stretch” and “just plain ridiculous.” The guy can play. Period.

All that said, he seemed to have to prove himself all over again under Klinsmann, and he’s apparently done just that. I gave him high marks vs. Slovenia. And pretty much everyone gave him a big, ol’ fat check-plus against Italy, including the New York Time’s Jack Bell.

The U.S. Soccer communications staff took some time while in Italy to visit with Bradley at his new club, Chievo Verona. He’s well integrated into the team now, and here’s one reason: the American midfielder put in the work to learn the language. Quite quickly, in fact.  That’s huge in terms of gaining acceptance and establishing yourself as a club fixture, not just someone using the small Serie A club as a stopover pending the next move. Read the piece at and see for yourself.

Klinsmann blames Costa Rica loss on Mexico hangover

Jurgen Klinsmann

The United States lost their third straight match on home soil tonight, the first such losing streak since 1997.

Following an extra-time loss to Mexico on Saturday, the U.S. failed to compete in a friendly against Costa Rica, putting in another poor performance as the side continues to struggle.

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In his post match press conference, Jurgen Klinsmann said his team was still shaking off the loss against Mexico, and couldn’t recover in time for tonight’s game.

Yes, the United States’ match against Mexico went 120 minutes. Yes, it was a very tough game both physically and mentally. However, it’s time for Klinsmann to stop making excuses.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from the USMNT’s loss to Costa Rica ]

Of the starting XI against Costa Rica, only four started against Mexico. Of the six substitutes Klinsmann brought in today, only Bobby Wood played in the Mexico match, and for less than 25 minutes.

The problem isn’t that the U.S. lost tonight; it’s that they didn’t even show up. What Klinsmann needed to do was walk into his press conference and say, “We didn’t come to play tonight. We stunk. That can’t happen and we need to be better. It starts with me.”

[ PLAYER RATINGS: Howard’s return highlights poor performances from USMNT ]

Top teams don’t dwell on past results. Top teams rebound quickly and back up poor performances with strong performances. When a top team would have bounced back, the United States fell flat.

Clearly the argument is, well, the United States isn’t a top team. But isn’t that what Klinsmann was brought in to do? To help develop the USMNT into a top team? The least they could do is act like one, and that starts with the manager.

College Soccer Update: Tragedy strikes USC Upstate with horrible car accident

USC Upstate
USC Upstate
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No interviews today. No star players and programs. Just mourning.

USC Upstate lost four students earlier this week, two of them men’s soccer players, in an early morning car accident this weekend. A fifth was injured when the car they were driving in ran off the road, hit a tree, and caught fire.

James Campbell and Mills Sproul are the soccer players who’ve left the pitch for the final time.

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USC Upstate’s athletic department held a candelight vigil on Monday, and honored both players with online memorials.

From Campbell’s, entitled “James Campbell Was an Intense Player Whose Competitiveness Made Those Around Him Play Harder”:

While Kyle Juell and James attended different high schools, they played club soccer together. “James was intense and passionate on the field,” Juell said. “He was the kind of aggressive player you wanted as a teammate. He was fun and warm and full of life and he cared so much about his teammates.”

From Sproul’s, entitled “Mills Sproul Put the Needs of Others Before His Own and Was Accepting of All”:

Mills’ teammate Deon Rose said that Mills was like the brother he never had.

“The first time I met him, I knew that he was special,” Rose said. “Not because he asked me if we had beaches in Canada or how Canadians survived without Chick-fil-A, but because he had an unconditional love for everyone and everything.”

Our thoughts are with the USC Upstate team, and entire community. Rest in peace.

Three stars of the week

1. University of California Santa Barbara — The Gauchos leapt from “receiving votes” to No. 14 in the nation. The Gauchos have won five-straight, all in-state, by a combined score of 13-3.

2. Joey Piatczyc, West Virginia — The midfielder leads the nation in assists with 12, one coming in Tuesday’s upset of Penn State, a match in which he also scored his first of the year. The Mountaineers shocked PSU with a 3-0 home win in Morgantown.

3. Francis Atuahene and Colin McAtee, Michigan — The Ghanaian freshman is a lightning bolt, and keeps producing goals along with the redshirt senior McAtee, who hails from San Diego. The Wolverines beat Duquesne 3-0 on Tuesday.

Other notes

— Creighton dropped two of its 24 first place votes, one each to North Carolina and Stanford, but remains the No.1 men’s team in the nation.

— Wake Forest hasn’t allowed a goal in three matches, against quality competition in NC State, South Carolina and Boston College. There were stretches in the 2-0 win over South Carolina where they looked unbeatable.

— Speaking of the Demon Deacons, they’ll face dangerous UNC on Saturday in what will be a cracker.

— Also No. 1:Florida State (Women’s D-1), Gannon (Women’s D-2), Trinity of Texas (Women’s D-3), Pfeiffer (Men’s D-2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D-3).