Before the United States embarked on its attempted conquest of the "Group of Death," there were a few concerns about how the team would handle the pressure of the World Cup.
One of the players expected to handle the situation with class and make an impact on the pitch was Michael Bradley.
Through two games, though, the 26-year-old has received a massive amount of criticism for his role in the midfield behind forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Klinsmann asked if concerned about Bradley. Says no. "I'm sure Michael will grow big-time into this tournament...nobody's perfect."— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 23, 2014
For most of the qualification process, Bradley lined up in the defensive midfield alongside Jermaine Jones, but his position changed in the final game before the World Cup against Nigeria.
During the friendly in Jacksonville, Florida, Bradley played in an advanced role and thrived, but he has not done so in the same role in Brazil.
Against Ghana, Bradley's impact on the pitch was nonexistent, but some gave him the benefit of the doubt because the complexion of the American attack unexpectedly changed when Altidore left the game with a hamstring injury.
The match against Portugal was Bradley's chance to silence the critics, which is something he achieved in the first 45 minutes.
After he came out of the locker room to begin the second half, Bradley had another chance to redeem himself, but once his shot in the 55th minute was cleared off the line by Ricardo Costa, his day went downhill.
US so close , Great save by Ricardo Costa https://t.co/dZe2rm9HjW— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 22, 2014
A player of Bradley's quality, no matter what position he plays in the midfield, has to finish a close shot on goal like that.
We can only guess how the game would've changed had he scored, but that presumably would have been the first of a few knockout punches delivered to Portugal's morale.
Bradley could have escaped further criticism had the Yanks come out of the match victorious, but when Eder dispossessed him with less than a minute left, the perception of the Toronto FC player changed again.
Mr Michael Bradley, consider yourself responsible for that late, late missing out on qualification there. Awful muddle and no working back.— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) June 22, 2014
After Bradley gave up the ball to the Portugal forward, Eder started a move that resulted in Cristiano Ronaldo's cross that found Silvestre Varela's head for a stoppage-time equalizer.
Bradley is not at fault for the entire goal, but he did concede the initial turnover by not turning around into the attacking third. Had Bradley made the turn and passed to one of his teammates on the wing, we could be talking about a completely different result.
For the record: Bradley lost possession 65/70 yards from goal. Is it bad? Yes but not like the team didn't have numbers back. #USA— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) June 23, 2014
Now that the imposing Germans await Thursday, Bradley will have one more chance to show he is able to show up on the big stage when his team needs him most.
If manager Jurgen Klinsmann sticks with the same 11 from the Portugal game, Bradley will once again be employed in an attacking role, but he will be given a license to drop back and disrupt the dangerous German attack.
Michael Bradley has been absolutely awful in these two World Cup matches.— Kayla Knapp (@KaylaKnappFOX) June 22, 2014
If Klinsmann switches around his starting lineup, which he is known to do, he could start Bradley alongside Kyle Beckerman or Jones. Playing Bradley and Beckerman would prevent Jones from picking up a second yellow card, which would suspend him for a round-of-16 clash with a team from Group H should the U.S. advance.
Bradley could also play next to Jones, which would give the Yanks two players who have experience from the Bundesliga in the defensive midfield.
Whichever role Bradley starts in Thursday, he will be the player under the most pressure because of the high comfort level fans had in his abilities at the start of the tournament—a sentiment that is fading away fast.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.