Michael Bradley remains one of the most polarizing figures in U.S. Soccer, but he’s on the verge of completing a feat this summer only accomplished by two other legendary players before him: Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones.
After Bradley’s start in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 1-1 draw with Chile on Tuesday, the Toronto FC holding midfielder has a total of 145 appearances in U.S. colors, stretching back to his first cap in 2006. Bradley sits just 12 caps back of Donovan (157) and 19 behind Jones (164), the all-time leader.
It’s been a remarkable career for Bradley for both club and country, maintaining an incredibly-high level of physical conditioning to always be available for the USMNT and his club. And, it’s conceivable that Bradley could pass 150 appearances by this summer.
These are Bradley's Opta maps from last night – plenty of defensive actions to go with that 91% pass completion rate in the face of Chile's press. You could argue he's not as spectacular as he once was, but this skillset can be very useful for Berhalter, esp w/ Adams next to him. pic.twitter.com/r7mdfYih2m
The USMNT will play a pair of friendly matches in the run up to the 2019 Gold Cup, in which Bradley could then break the 150-mark by the third of three group stage matches. This fall, the USMNT then enters CONCACAF Nations League action, with two games in each of September and October on the schedule. As many as two games could be scheduled for November as well.
In 2020, the USMNT is expected to hold its January camp, with a pair of friendlies, before another pair at the end of March. Then, like this year, teams would get two friendly matches in June, followed by either the summer off or potentially the U.S. taking part in the 2020 Copa America.
Should Bradley remain a key member of the USMNT, as he looks so far under Berhalter, the 31-year-old could break Jones’ record of 164 caps by the summer of 2020, especially if the USMNT makes a run to the 2019 Gold Cup final and plays as many international matches as available.
The USMNT could play as many as eight games this summer, with another six games in the fall. With two in January and another two in March, Bradley could tie Jones heading into the summer international soccer season, putting a bow on what’s been a decorated, yet controversial at times career.
For the first time in 32 years the World Cup would be coming to North America and there is euphoria that a new generation of soccer fans will appear across the three countries.
But focusing solely on the U.S. (which will host 60 of the 80 games in the expanded 48-team format), what will this mean?
A man who knows about the impact of the last World Cup on home soil better than most is Cobi Jones, the all-time appearance leader for the U.S. men’s national team with 164 caps from 1992-2004 and he played for the USMNT in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
There is no doubt in his mind as to how significant this moment is for the soccer landscape in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.
“It is a historic event,” Jones said. “For a nation to be able to host two World Cups. I understand it is a United bid with the U.S. being part of it having hosted in 1994 and now again in 2026, there are very few countries who are able to say they’ve hosted two World Cups. And for someone like me who grew up in the early 70s and 80s when soccer really was relevant in the United States, I didn’t think I’d see one World Cup, let alone two. It is pretty special.”
Jones, now 47, was 24 years old when the last World Cup in the U.S. kicked off.
He fondly remembers stepping out in front of over 84,000 fans to play for the U.S. against Brazil in the last 16 and wants that buzz to return in eight years time.
“It was pride,” Jones reflected. “The moment I was able to walk out on July 4 into Stanford Stadium, walking out against Brazil and seeing them walk out right next to me as a young man and I’ve got Romario and Bebeto doing their holding hands walk out into the center of the field… then looking up at that moment and seeing a full stadium with the majority being American fans. That was a moment of pride for a sport no-one thought would be successful in the United States. People from all around the world looked down on soccer in the United States. And to see that, it gave incentive to soccer to continue to move forward and grow.”
Many still look back to the 1994 World Cup as the seminal moment for the domestic game in the U.S. as it launched not only Major League Soccer but whole industries around the sport when it came to media, business and infrastructure.
It was the moment the world seemed to realize that soccer in the U.S. had potential.
“That World Cup impacted me the same way it impacted so many more. It was a wonderful surprise,” Jones explained. “It was an inspiration for more investment in the sport in the United States and maybe a little more respect form overseas. I think as well we saw the legacy that it left behind and you have the United States, basically the 1994 World Cup built from the top down. You had the establishment of MLS and that top down development and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m hoping that with such a long run-up we see the investment from the ground up. More investment into infrastructure into that side of things where we see a grow into youth levels. That would be a logical use of money in my mind.”
The landscape of soccer in the U.S. is very different now compared to 1994.
MLS has grown to 26 teams. Every major league across the world is available to watch on television or online, plus huge summer friendly tournaments pack out stadiums as well as the rapid growth in popularity of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.
What’s the next step?
“I would say now soccer has got the full acceptance. I still think we are in a little bit of a transition and everyone is still trying to get a grasp of where soccer is at in this country,” Jones said. “When I was growing up nobody gave soccer any kind of respect and you were an outsider if you were into the sport. It grew into the fact where you got the development that now it’s like ‘okay, you’re cool and hip’ if you like soccer because it’s a little different. Now I think we’re at a point where we are just on the cusp of where it is starting to turn and on the edge of where it could be mainstream. We are seeing full stadiums, MLS is growing soccer-specific stadiums non-stop. But I still think there needs to be a transition where it is a day-to-day topic amongst the general population.
“We have it already if you ask people ‘do you watch MLS or such and such team?’ and people will say ‘oh no, I don’t, I’m not a fan of that’ or ‘oh yeah, I’m a fan.'” Just the fact that it’s not ‘oh, what’s that?’ is a massive change in this country!” Jones chuckled. “People know now. You could say ‘LAFC’ and people will say, ‘that new team in LA!’ and that’s a change. That’s big. Now we have to get it to the point where it’s on a daily basis where people are talking and there’s no hesitation at all about saying ‘did you see the game today?’ and that’s the next big step for soccer in the U.S.”
Whether or not the 2026 World Cup will bring the sport into the mainstream conversation on a permanent basis remains to be seen, but one area Jones believes cannot be neglected is attracting players and interest from communities which have previously been left out.
With kids currently at the age of nine or ten possibly able to play for the USMNT at the 2026 World Cup as a teenage star a la Christian Pulisic, no community in the U.S. should left out of what promises to be an exhilarating eight-year journey.
“Off the field, we have got a long runway [until 2026] and as resources are put towards the growth for the game, I’d like to see more in the youth game but particularly into those undeserved communities or whatever you’d like to call it. The urban population. Just to expand the reach of soccer into those communities and possibly bring others who don’t have the chance to even just play the game or even just to build the sport more,” Jones said. “Let’s not forget, what we are starting to see in this day and age, a perfect example is someone like Pulisic, going into the national team at aged 17 or 18, and showing that they can play well. If that happens and the timing happens to be just right, basically a nine-year-old today will be able to play in the 2026 World Cup.
“We need to make sure our reach, our coaching, our philosophy, it’s the youth today and along that whole runaway up to 2026. The journey starts now and don’t leave people behind. Don’t leave those underserved communities behind. Let’s make sure the diversity is there. And by diversity I mean making a concerted effort to get into areas where people wouldn’t normally reached by U.S. Soccer because the thought of ‘oh, they’ll find us’ that isn’t working anymore. You’ve got to go out and find those players and show them what they need to do and where they need to go.”
Although there is plenty of focus on 2026 and having a U.S. team able to compete and do well, Jones is eager to remind everyone that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar comes before that.
Jones believes the USMNT cannot afford to miss a second-straight World Cup and expects his former teammate Earnie Stewart to focus on the here and now as well as the future in his new role as General Manager.
“There is going to be a lot of excitement about it being here in the United States [in 2026] but we have to remember that 2022 is right around the corner. There will be a focus on the players and the general plan going forward. That entails the next 18 months. The next World Cup doesn’t start four years from now. It starts two years from now,” Jones said. “We do not want to skip over this World Cup. The last thing the United States needs is the disappointment of not being at two World Cups. We need to start the focus now on the short-term and the long-term, and that’s part of the reason why the addition of a GM and Earnie Stewart being hired in that new job, he can keep the focus on both.”
What should USMNT fans being hope for from their team in 2026?
Jones was part of the 2002 World Cup squad which reached the quarterfinals before being harshly knocked out by Germany. In the modern era that is the USA’s best-ever finish in a tournament.
If the future USMNT replicate that finish, then surely the fans from all over the U.S. who are attracted to watching a team on home soil will stick around for a lot longer.
“On the pitch I’d like to see the U.S. do well and at that point if they can get beyond the quarterfinal stage and get into the semis,” Jones said. “We have a great crop of talent who are actually playing on a consistent basis in Europe and in the U.S. with the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, all of these type of players who I feel can contribute on the pitch in the future along with some of the older players you see now. You will see a good U.S. side that won’t disappoint. I would like to see them go beyond the quarterfinals. That would be a success.”
Narrowing down the list of my voting opportunity for the United States national team’s all-time best 11 to a list of 15-or-so personal finalists wasn’t such a tall task. Not easy, but not insurmountable.
Bit eliminating the next four or five to arrive at the final list? Impossible!
U.S. Soccer is selecting an all-time Best XI as it continues to celebrate 100 years as a federation. I was asked to count myself among the media voters.
As I said, it was tough as could be at the end. Just consider this: I had to choose four midfielders from between Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Tab Ramos and Clint Dempsey. (Those were my “finalists” from within the big list of finalists.)
Before you decide – because I know at first glance someone like Beasley may not be tops on your list of all-time U.S. greats, consider the criteria by which we were asked to cast our votes:
Starter or key contributor to overall success on the field, especially in World Cups.
Longevity, overall performance and talent on the field with the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team.
Impact on the legacy of the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team program
If you really consider the number of caps, the contributions to qualifying over the years, the Gold Cup contributions, the somewhat nebulous “legacy” factor and, of course, the actually World Cup tourney performance, there’s a lot going on.
Without further delay, here was my vote:
Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller
Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra
Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Cobi Jones
Clint Dempsey joined an impressive list last night. No, not a list of U.S. players who have lost in World Cup qualifiers in picturesque, tropical land of Costa Rica, although that list is chock-full of talented yanks, considering the United States still has never won a qualifier there.
Dempsey joined the relatively short list of United States men with 100 caps.
Cobi Jones owns the all-time mark with 164 appearances, although he is probably just holding the spot for Landon Donovan, who will apparently soon own every U.S. record that doesn’t involve a goalkeeper glove.
Dempsey talked about the achievement in a Q&A with U.S. Soccer (that was posted just before Friday’s match). Among his thoughts: “Things that jump out to me when I look back are of course my first cap against Jamaica, my first goal with the National Team against England, my first goal in the World Cup, being able to get to the Confederations Cup Final and winning our group at the last World Cup. Hopefully there will be more, but those are the ones that immediately jump out to me.”
Here’s the list of U.S. men with 100 or more caps (with number of full U.S. national team appearances):
Cobi Jones, 164
Donovan, Landon, 152
Jeff Agoos, 134
Marcelo Balboa, 127
Claudio Reyna, 112
Carlos Bocanegra, 110
Paul Caligiuri, 110
DaMarcus Beasley, 110
Eric Wynalda, 106
Kasey Keller, 102
Earnie Stewart, 101
Clint Dempsey, 100
Tony Meola, 100
Joe-Max Moore, 100
Video: National team legends talk U.S. rivalry with Mexico
As Kasey Keller notes in this video, for a long period of time, the U.S. seemed to have Mexico’s number. The results paint a slightly different picture, one that saw each team dominate on home soil, but between the Round of 16 win at the 2002 World Cup and the number of other matches that would take place in the States, you can see why Team USA developed a confidence when it came to Mexico. Particularly given where the States were coming from — the wilderness that was pre-1990 U.S. Soccer — you can understand why the generation of players that led the U.S. to some relative halcyon days takes enormous pride in what they accomplished.
And if you’re around an old national teamer and the topic comes up, the pride still burns. The rivalry is still there. It isn’t something that they file away only to bring out when the cameras turn on. As former captain Claudio Reyna said to me once, “[Mexico] still act like we weren’t beating them.”
Here, in U.S. Soccer’s 100 Moments series on YouTube, Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis, Kasey Keller and Alexi Lalas talk about the rivalry they helped build … Just part of your primer before tonight’s match at Azteca.