Michael Bradley has been proving the doubters wrong for years. Doing it one more time on his biggest stage yet should be no big deal.
Actually, that's not true at all. Having an American in Rome qualifies as a big deal for the United States national team. Full stop.
Let's back up.
Last summer found Bradley in an uncomfortable place with both club and country. After failing to find a regular place in Aston Villa's lineup during a forgettable loan spell, Bradley found his parent club, Borussia Monchengladbach, uninterested in his services.
Still only 23, Bradley supposedly was losing his luster and proving the early hype wrong.
Earlier that summer, the USSF had fired head coach Bob Bradley, the scowling, unpopular Team USA coach and father to Michael. The doubters rejoiced, danced in the streets, said "told you so" gleefully and high-fived each other.
Berserk Bob was gone and his kid wouldn't have an automatic spot in the starting lineup of Jurgen Klinsmann's American revolution.
Turns out the doubters were wrong. I know. I was one of them.
Bradley is an automatic starter in the American midfield if Klinsmann has any sense. Bradley has earned that. Hard-working and technically sound, Bradley covers stunning distances from box to box over the course of the match and chips in with occasional scoring—sometimes with spectacular results.
He also earned his move to AS Roma, a $4.6 million transfer that the club announced Sunday. According to the New York Times' Goal Blog, Bradley is expected to replace Fernando Gago, who is returning to Real Madrid after featuring in Roma's midfield on loan.
"I am very happy to be able to play at Roma," Bradley told AS Roma News. "This chance only comes once in a lifetime.
"This club believes in me and I have proved that I am worthy of wearing this shirt. Now I want to show that I can earn a starting place at Roma, that I'm a player who can help the team to do well and give my best."
If you're a fan of American soccer, you should be happy, too.
Bradley, it should be noted, earned all of this despite all of the professional and personal disappointment of last summer. That's a testament to the professionalism of a guy who's quickly becoming one of Team USA's most indispensable players.
Bradley has the highest profile of any American international that the average American fan doesn't actually know about. He's the hardcore fan's Clint Dempsey, an upper middle-class man's Landon Donovan, more than half a decade younger than either but already a member of a legit big-boy European club at the age of 24.
He's won 69 caps for his country yet somehow failed to fully win over the doubters. Some of that might have been his father's fault. Besides selecting his son for the national team, the elder Bradley also drafted the young 16-year-old Mike for the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars (now the Red Bulls) in 2004.
Now, though, Roma believe in him, and that can only help Bradley and his prospects for the U.S. national team. With Bradley improving, the national team should in turn benefit.
As Steve Davis writes at NBC Sports' ProSoccerTalk:
Point is, his move to Roma will only enhance the product in a U.S. shirt. Being surrounded by better players at Roma should allow Bradley to add further polish and a layer of steely sophistication that he might not have reached in Verona. Plus, Roma may not be AC or Inter in terms of European accomplishment, but it’s no stranger to Champions League play.
For years, Dempsey has been telling everyone who will listen that he wants to play in the Champions League. For years, nearly anyone with any platform has been telling Donovan to return to Europe and do the same.
After Sunday's transfer, there's a real chance Bradley could beat both of them to it. That can only be a good thing for Bradley, the U.S. national team and Klinsmann's revolution.
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