DAVID SMITH - Monday, June 22, 2009
After a remarkable 90 minutes which saw the US go from the brink of an embarrassing elimination to a semifinal date with Spain, Michael Bradley is reveling in the team's success.
His goal in the 63rd minute was the second of three for the Stars and Stripes, who, thanks to Brazil's identical 3-0 demolition of Italy, suddenly find themselves canceling their early return flights stateside and unexpectedly looking forward to more of the deafening sound of vuvuzelas.
"We just came into the night knowing that we needed to win and that we needed goals," Bradley told YA. "We were committed to taking it one play at a time and one goal at a time."
The Americans came into Sunday's game with a gargantuan task ahead of them if they hoped to advance to the semifinals, not only needing a victory combined with a loss by the Italians, but more dauntingly forced to atone for a seemingly insurmountable deficit in goal differential.
Bradley, however, feels the team's dedication to push ahead together despite the odds ultimately gave them the right headspace for their startling success.
"There are no guarantees when you come into a game that you're going to get a goal right away or that things will go your way," he concedes.
"But we said to each other before the game that we were going to be committed for 90 minutes to leave everything on the field, and at the end see how the chips would fall."
While the 3-0 scoreline seems to indicate a night and day difference in comparison to the previous two multiple-goal losses, the ultimate distinction, in Bradley's opinion, is as simple as arithmetic.
"We played with 11 guys for 90 minutes."
"Everybody wants to be so quick to say how bad things are and how we're the worst team in the world," he said, seething. "Well, it's not so easy when you've played Brazil and Italy down a guy for 90 out of 180 minutes."
The performance sends the Red, White & Blue to the knockout rounds of a non-CONCACAF tournament for the first time since their memorable quarterfinal run of the 2002 World Cup, and perhaps more importantly, gives Bradley and his fellow Yanks a massive boost after a tough four-game run which saw them heavily criticized for a series of unlucky or simply lackluster performances.
"At the end of the night, you walk into the locker room, and to be able to experience a feeling like that with your teammates, with the coaches, with the trainers, that's why you play," he affirms.
"To be able to do something special like that where everything is against you, everybody wants to say how bad you are, everybody wants to write you off - to just leave all that outside the locker room and just be committed as a team to leaving everything on the field, to be running for each other, to be fighting for each other - that's what we did."
Bradley is unabashed in expressing his sentiment of the team's vindication from the mounting criticism prior to this important win, feeling that their performance against the African champions is more indicative of their true qualities.
"All the experts in America, everybody who thinks they know everything about soccer, they can all look at the score tonight and let's see what they have to say now."
The US will be allowed little time to relax in their success, since the team frequently regarded as the best in the world - Spain - awaits less than three days later, after having coasted through their first three games, albeit in a relative "group of fluff", by a combined 8-0 scoreline.
The significance of Wednesday night's date is not lost for the young Bradley amongst the elation of their victory, however, as the team's focus shifts towards one single goal.
"We're not really thinking about much more than trying to step on the field Wednesday night and get a win to give ourselves a chance to play in a final," he maintains.
"Obviously you are playing in the semifinal of a big competition and you know it's going to be that much more competitive and that much harder. Everything is on the line."
With a likely return trip to the southern tip of Africa for next summer's World Cup finals only a year away, the recent survivor of Borussia Mönchengladbach's also miraculous escape from Bundesliga relegation is convinced that these sorts of experiences are what ultimately build strength within a team to ready them for whatever set of new and unexpected challenges lay ahead.
"When you walk into the locker room after a night like tonight and you can look at every guy in the eye and you know how every guy has given everything they have for the cause and for each other, that's a special feeling."
"When you can do that, and the more you can do that, that's how you build a team, that's how you build something special."
"Tonight's a good step but Wednesday will hopefully be a bigger one."