ussoccer.com recently visited Michael Bradley in Toronto, where the U.S. MNT midfielder has made his home following a summer move to Toronto FC. Bradley took a moment during filming for “Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil” to speak about moving with his family to Canada.
ussoccer.com: What drew you to Toronto? The soccer part is obvious, but can you talk about what was enticing for you about the city itself?
Michael Bradley: “I’ve been lucky enough over the years to play with some different Canadian players and, more than anything, have really close relationships with some of them. I played with Paul Stalteri in Germany at Borussia Moenchengladbach and he and his wife are very close friends of ours. Will Johnson is a guy I grew up with. Rob Friend is a guy I played with in Holland and in Germany. He and his wife are great friends.
“You always hear them talking about Toronto and what a great city it is. Obviously I had experiences being there different times – in 2007 for the Under-20 World Cup, with the National Team in the summer of 2012, and this past summer for a couple of days with Roma.
“What you can see right away is that it’s a diverse city with people from all different backgrounds. It’s not altogether different than the area I grew up in around New Jersey. You realize right away when you get here, it’s a sports city and the people here love their teams. They’re passionate, love watching their teams play and want so badly to have winning teams. They are excited watching teams they can be proud of.”
ussoccer.com: You grew up in different cities in the USA and have lived all over the place during your career. Does Toronto remind you of any of those places and have you had any unique experiences in the city so far?
MB: “In a lot of ways it reminds me of places I have been and places I spent a lot of time in. I think Toronto has a little bit of New York and New Jersey in it. It has a little bit of Chicago in it and it has a little bit of a European feel. It’s an amazing city, one that we’re still getting to know, but in all ways we couldn’t be happier.
“The first night we got here – we flew in from Rome – and from the police officer who was waiting for us when we landed, to the people at the hotel, to the people at the club and in the city, you immediately got such a sense of how proud they are of their city and of their country and how excited they are for you to be there.
“Our home opener, the guy comes out to sing the Canadian National Anthem, he sang the first two word, ‘O’ Canada,’ and from there the crowd took the rest. It was one of the more special things I’ve seen in a stadium.”
ussoccer.com: You have frequently mentioned you wanted to be a professional player since you were a little kid. Is having a family also something you also aspired to do in your life?”
MB: “Yes, definitely. I think when you’re lucky enough to grow up in a close family, to grow up in a loving family that you’re proud of, at a certain point you realize how special that is and know how important that is in life.
“At an early age I knew that you could have all these other things going on and things could be great professionally, but that was only part of it if you didn’t have people close to you to love and share it with. I have always wanted a wife and kids to come home to, and sisters and parents to be close to as the people around who I love and care about.”
ussoccer.com: Your son Luca is just about 18 months old. Does he recognize what you do yet?
MB: “It’s funny, in this past stretch, when I was gone for a long period of time at preseason, he started to understand what it means to him and his routine. My wife called me one morning after he woke up, ran into the bedroom looking for me and when I wasn’t there had this confused look on his face like, “Wait, where is he?’’ It took him like two or three seconds until something caught his attention, he started chasing the dog or playing with his toys, but he understands what it means when I’m gone because when I come back he gets excited.
“And just recently he’s started to understand I play soccer. For our first home game the other week, Amanda said it was the first time he saw me on the field. I went over to take a corner kick that was really close to him and he recognized me and got really excited. The other day they went to the park and there was a men’s league soccer game going and he kept wanting to run over to the field and shout, ‘Dada, Dada.’ So he gets it a little bit.”
ussoccer.com: Growing up, you had your dad involved in the game and with teams. Are you looking forward to having your son as a part of your life as a soccer player?
MB: “I can only talk from my experience and how special it was for me to share soccer with my dad. I want Luca to do things that he loves and things that he’s passionate about, but I’m excited for him to come out to training with me. Even now, my wife will bring him up at the end of training some days and he’ll run around on the field and kick the ball around. Afterwards, I’ll walk him through the locker room and he’ll look around at everything. As he gets older, I’m excited for him to be able to see all that and experience that because I had that when I was a little guy. Who knows at the end if he’ll love the game as much as I did or if he’ll want to play as much as I did, but it’ll be something special he and I will be able to share together.”
ussoccer.com: Has having a family changed what drives you professionally?
MB: “No, it hasn’t. The things that motivated me as a soccer player and a competitor before are still the same things that motivate me now. When I’m competing I want to be the best and try to help whatever team I’m on be better. Those are the things that I’ve always been about. Those are the things that I’ve always focused on. Having a family just makes those great moments that much greater because you have people who love you and care about you more than anything in the whole world there to share those moments. You realize how special that is.”
ussoccer.com: A professional soccer player is in a constant cycle of preparation and games. There’s always a week of training and then a match at the end of the week. There’s only so much preparation you have before having a child! And after the fact, there’s no real chance to get back on the training pitch the next week…
MB: “I can still remember when we found out she was pregnant. We both looked at each other like: ‘Are we ready for this?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, of course we are. We’re not going to be any more ready.’ At some point you’re as ready as you’re going to be to be parents. That last little bit, the last little part is so unknown and only becoming a parent can teach you what that last part is all about. It’s an amazing opportunity to have a family of your own. It’s an amazing feeling to walk in the door at the end of the day and see somebody run up to you and look at you like you’re the greatest, most special thing in the whole world. Being able to share that with your wife, the person who you love more than anything, the person who in our profession is the most important person as far as being unselfish and loving and caring and supportive of everything no matter what, is incredible.”
“Being a mom is hard. Being a mom to a little boy whose dad is a professional soccer player and gone as much as I am and all that entails is that much harder. It takes a special person to be able to deal with all that, understand it and still be able to put your son and yourself ahead of everything else at all times. For that I’ll be forever grateful to my wife.”
ussoccer.com: As much as there’s a tendency to claim having a kid changes you, or makes you see things in a different perspective, it seems like having a family and raising Luca comes pretty natural to you?
MB: “I’m still the same person, I still care about the same things. But I’m a simple guy: I love my family, I love my wife, I love my son. I love spending time with them and even with my extended family, having our moms and dads, our brothers and sisters feel a part of everything that we’re doing.
“And, I love soccer. I love the game. I love the feeling of going into training every day, trying to work, trying to improve. I love the feeling of stepping on the field on Saturday and having the chance to compete, to play.
“People ask, ‘What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not playing? How do you switch off?’ Well, I spend time with my family. When you get married, when you have kids, you learn that you have to put them before you in so many situations and how important that is. Deep down I’m that person.”
The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.
Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.
“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”
Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.
“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”
Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.
“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”
“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.
Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.
The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.
“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.
The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.
“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”
U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-6-5 advantage against El Tri.
“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”
“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.”Read more