DAVID SMITH - Sunday, June 27, 2010
In the wake of the US' heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Ghana, midfielder Michael Bradley praises the team unity throughout the tournament but finds the disappointment of an early trip home a bitter pill to swallow.
The US had passed through the group phase with an undefeated record for the first time in the nation's history to reach the round of 16 matchup against the lone remaining African representative.
While the team's never-say-die attitude and fighting spirit had driven them to earning a pair of late results in their final two games, Bradley recognizes that a deep run through the latter stages of the tournament often needs the addition of those intangible factors which are often out of any team's reach.
"When you get to big tournaments, you need a little bit of luck, you need things to go your way to make a real run at it," Bradley admitted to YA following the defeat.
"You see that with any team and some of the big European teams," he continues. "When you get to a World Cup or a big tournament like this, you need things to kind of come together at the right time. Certainly parts did for us, but in the end, it wasn't enough."
As in their draws against both England and Slovenia, the Red, White and Blue were forced to fight back from an early goal by their opposition, however in this instance, an unexpected and outstanding strike by Ghanaian forward Asamoah Gyan in the opening minutes of extra time to restore the lead proved to be too much for Bradley and his teammates to overcome.
"The line between winning and losing is so small," he explains. "We went down 1-0 and we fought really hard to get back into it."
"For the majority of the game we were pushing to get 1-1, and then still I thought we were going to get the winner," he continues. "To give away the goal right at the beginning of extra time made it hard to come back."
Despite ultimately falling to the tough Black Star squad and missing out on a quarterfinal match-up with Uruguay, the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder is quick to point out that the team had done well to shift the momentum of the game towards their favor after initially conceding an early lead.
"Like I said, we gave away the early goal, but after that I thought we had a good grip on the game," he asserts. "I thought we were the team that was pushing things, we were pushing the tempo, we were the ones to get chances."
"We got the penalty to make it 1-1 and I really felt like the second on was coming. We had chances."
Much of the disappointment among supporters of the team has centered around the potential golden opportunity missed due to the lack of any recognized world powers awaiting in the bracket until the semifinal.
This is inconsequential to Bradley, however, who feels that the collective focus of the team should always remain on their immediate opponent, rather than any preconceived notions of whomever may await at the next step.
"Regardless of the draw, the World Cup comes around only once every four years," he states. "It didn't matter who we were playing against today or who the next game would have been against."
"Taking all that aside, we had a group of guys that were confident in one another and on the inside, we believed in ourselves," he continues, conceding, "it didn't matter who were were playing against, to go out like this is hard.
While the debate of whether the team surpassed expectations, underachieved or merely maintained the status quo will continue throughout the coming cycle, the 22 year-old confesses that the disappointment of Saturday's loss is still at the forefront of team's thoughts.
"Right now we don't feel good [about how we did]. The rest at this point is all irrelevant."
"We had a team on the inside that really believed in each other. We were confident in ourselves, we felt we had a team that on any day could win any game."
"I think we had our chances [against Ghana], didn't get the goal to go up 2-1 and when they scored a good goal, that's a hard thing to come back from."
Even with the blow of Saturday's loss still fresh on their minds, Bradley nevertheless sees a ground for optimism as the team looks ahead to the future, and is confident that they will continue to steadily improve despite their early departure from South Africa.
"I think our national team continues to grow and continues to get better," he attests. "For me that still would have been the case had we not gotten the goal against Algeria and not gotten through."