Michael Bradley

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Could Bradley become all-time caps leader in 2020?

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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.

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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.

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.

Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

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For the first time in a long time, I did not have any writing responsibilities during a United States men’s national team camp. That gave me the opportunity to ask a friend to meet me out at the local soccer pub here in Buffalo and just kinda take in the match without obsessing over the player rating of each player to don a U.S. kit.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

What that allowed was a more free appraisal of how I felt about the USMNT, and frankly it was a bit surprising to see what registered in this maniacal mind.

What’s the future for the January guys who earned time in this camp?

The answer to the heading, if we’re honest, is a mixed bag.

I’ve been the first to question whether Gyasi Zardes would be called into U.S. camp with a good look at starting atop the formation for any other coach than Berhalter, who relied on him with Columbus, but the industrious if touch-trouble forward was very good for large parts of both March friendlies and played a role in both goals.

Aaron Long continues to impress at center back, to the point where it would not have been surprising if he earned another start in front of Matt Miazga.

It was less happy for Corey Baird, who at 23 still has some time to season but has not shown the requisite finishing touch to meet his fantastic engine. Nick Lima and Christian Ramirez did not feature while Jonathan Lewis only got a token call. Daniel Lovitz was good in his cameo.

We’re not in the wilderness, but a Golden Generation isn’t guaranteed

There are so many reasons to be excited as a USMNT supporter, especially if you can ignore the fact that Mexico is somehow the first and second best team in CONCACAF. Christian Pulisic is a generational player, and the side has two other 20-year-old central midfielders who are key components to their Bundesliga clubs in Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Beyond that is a strong center back in John Brooks, as well as some serious competitors to start next to him in Chelsea property Matt Miazga and the Red Bulls’ Aaron Long.

With apologies to Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin, new Man City backstop Zack Steffen, and exciting teen talents Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, it dips off a bit after that in terms of guarantees (And Weah and Sargent still have a bit to go to reach the level of even Jozy Altidore). Djordje Mihailovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jaylin Lindsey, and Ulysses Lainez are exciting prospects, but little more than that now.

If we’re being honest, QPR’s Geoff Cameron is probably still the best partner for Brooks. And whether you hate or love Michael Bradley — more on him in a minute — you cannot say that any player has done anything to claim his place in the midfield (Hey USSF, remember Jonathan Gonzalez? Great work!).

Assuming he sticks with Adams as a right back, these is almost unquestionably the most hopeful team for 2022 given Berhalter’s formation preference. And there is A LOT of hope in hopeful given the inclusion of Weah and Sargent.

Steffen

Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???

Bradley

McKennie — Pulisic

Weah — Altidore — Sargent

Michael freaking Bradley

This is the sixth season since Michael Bradley returned from Europe to make some big dollars in Major League Soccer, and it’s mostly been rather triumphant for Toronto FC’s captain.

The exceptions are big ones: Toronto FC failed to build on its treble-winning 2017 in MLS, spectacularly failing to make the playoffs and using Bradley as a center back for a quarter of the season, and the USMNT failing to get a draw out of Trinidad and Tobago and breaking its long streak of going to the World Cup (which is a pretty cool soccer tournament, team).

Bradley’s been quite good for TFC early this season, and Gregg Berhalter has him looking back at his best in a USMNT shirt. While Tuesday’s performance against Chile wasn’t perfect, the veteran showed a terrific range of passing including a downright ethereal bomb that Corey Baird couldn’t handle in the first half. And he did it against a midfield that included Europe-based stars Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz.

Berhalter’s plan for his deep-lying center midfielder fits Bradley to a T, and allows both Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie to take care of the “be everywhere” role that Jurgen Klinsmann expected from the No. 4 (and perhaps we should go back to credit MB90 for not lighting the coach on fire a bit more often). Wil Trapp is a solid 5.5 years younger than Bradley, but not everyone has the same level of class as the TFC man. Berhalter will be wise to consider that old Bradley in 2022 might be a step up from a second-tier holding midfielder in Qatar (or just try someone who isn’t Trapp. That could also be a thing).

It’s easy to forget that Bradley is an all-time American soccer legend given what happened in Couva; The 31-year-old has 144 caps and he’s got a solid shot to become the States’ all-time leader by the time he hangs up his boots. Bradley is 20 caps back of Cobi Jones and 13 shy of Landon Donovan’s second place spot. In the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, we should “forget where we differ, and get big picture.”

In other words, find me the player champing at the bit to take the place of a former Serie A starter who then led the best team in MLS history? He’s not there right now.

What’s the Best XI of players Berhalter has yet to call into camp?

Every manager has guys he serially overlooks, or at least is accused of overlooking, and critics of Jurgen Klinsmann were quick to shout the names Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan from the rooftops on occasion.

No one’s clamoring for those two this go ’round, and that’s more a generational thing than anything else, but there are still some guys who’ve been on the outside looking in (and not at U-23 or U-20 camp).

Here’s a halfway-promising (or experienced) XI to consider:

Brad Guzan

Shaq Moore — Palmer-Brown — Carter-Vickers — Kyle Duncan

Russell Canouse

Darlington Nagbe  — Memo Rodriguez

Lynden Gooch — Andrija Novakovich — Kenny Saief

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

[ MORE: Top 12 signings of PL season ]

The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.

Need to Know: What went down on MLS opening day

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The 2019 MLS season got underway on Saturday, and did so with a flurry of action — and goals — across the campaign’s first 10 games…

[ MORE: Rapinoe, Heath lead USWNT back to draw England (video) ]

If you missed the day’s action, here are four of the biggest stories, outcomes, debuts or revelations you need to know…

Michael Bradley Revenge Tour – 2019

First things first, 2019 is a contract year for Michael Bradley, Toronto FC’s $6.5-million-per-year midfield engine. While the one-time (and maybe still) U.S. men’s national team captain can hardly ever be accused of prioritizing money over all else in his career, it’s the whole “getting paid” part that makes him a professional. Beyond the cash he stands to make or lose on a potential next contract, Bradley must first prove he’s got enough left in the tank to warrant the Reds extending an offer in the first place.

Fine, have a season-opening brace in a 3-1 victory away to the Philadelphia Union, one of the Eastern Conference’s six playoff teams from a year ago. What happened to TFC in 2019 was no doubt an embarrassment and an affront for a player of Bradley’s standard.

Taking into account the above two factors, no one should be at all surprised when Bradley turns in Herculean performance after Herculean performance in 2019, shutting up his longtime haters and reminding those who might have jumped ship that he’s far from finished.


Meet the future of the Galaxy, Efrain Alvarez

Efrain Alvarez is a 16-year-old Mexican-American superstar in the making, and he already looks like he’ll be MLS’s next great teenage export to Europe. Making his MLS debut on Saturday, the Los Angeles-born Mexican youth international (he switch from the U.S. to Mexico at the U-15 level, in 2016) needed just eight minutes to make his mark and spark the Galaxy’s comeback.

Paging U.S. Soccer: let’s get on this, ASAP…

As for the Galaxy’s 2019 prospects, the only thing I feel comfortable saying with absolute certainty is this: they will be very fun to watch, and equal parts maddening, probably during the course of one every game. The best thing I can say for Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side on his MLS coaching debut is this: after falling behind on a comically atrocious mistake that gift-wrapped Chicago’s opening goal, they knew how to play from behind without handing the Fire a second and/or third goal. Oh, yeah, and he’s already willing to play the Galaxy’s (considerably talented) academy kids.


Keep an eye on Minnesota

Minnesota United appear headed for respectability and a — dare I say it — push for a playoff place in 2019. Finally, after struggling defensively for two seasons, the Loons went out and make a trio of signings that might just prove franchise-altering in very short order: Osvaldo Alonso, Ike Opara and Jan Gregus.

While you’re undoubtedly familiar with the work of Alonso and Opara, Gregus probably has you thinking to yourself, Who? Who, indeed, but the 28-year-old Slovak international proved in Saturday’s 3-2 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps that he is the midfield anchor Minnesota had been missing. Signed from Copenhagen this winter, Gregus was extremely tidy in possession (he completed 93 percent of the 84 passes he attempted) and provided solid cover for a backline that knew no such thing prior to his arrival.

Darwin Quintero remains one of the league’s biggest game-changers (one goal and two assists), which might not go to waste yet again now that the rest of the roster has a bit more quality and experience.


Orange ball alert

It is with great pleasure that I inform the masses that the Colorado Rapids were forced to break out the orange ball on the opening day of the season, thanks to near white-out conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the coldest game in MLS history (18 degrees at kickoff).

What did we learn about the Rapids or their opponents, the defending Western Conference champion Portland Timbers, on this day? Other than the fact that 3-3 draws and 94th-minute equalizers in heavy snow are tons of fun to watch, of course? Not a single thing, thanks to said weather conditions turning the game into a glorified Thanksgiving day pickup game in the backyard.

Full MLS scoreboard

Seattle Sounders 4-1 FC Cincinnati
LA Galaxy 2-1 Chicago Fire
Philadelphia Union 1-3 Toronto FC
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-3 Minnesota United
Colorado Rapids 3-3 Portland Timbers
Orlando City SC 2-2 New York City FC
Columbus Crew SC 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Houston Dynamo 1-1 Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Montreal Impact
FC Dallas 1-1 New England Revolution