There’s plenty of praise to go around to the entire U.S. National Team for its back-to-back wins this past week away to Netherlands and Germany.
And while Bobby Wood’s pair of game-winning-goals will certainly be the most memorable takeaways, one player that earned more pointed praise was veteran midfielder Michael Bradley, who Jurgen Klinsmann said, “took it to another level” the last two matches.
“He was the absolute best player on the field tonight,” Klinsmann said of his performance against Germany. “With his experience, he played all over in Europe and back in MLS now, the players really looked at him and said we’re going to turn this in the other direction. The people in Europe know him -- obviously he played in the Bundesliga and played in Serie A. They know about his qualities and capabilities. One thing is you show that in your club environment, the other thing is you show it in the national team jersey.”
Bradley showed those in Europe he could do it on the international level, bossing the U.S. midfield in both contests while bringing his team creativity and composure at crucial moments.
Down 3-1 in the second half against Holland, Bradley made a play to spark the U.S. comeback. In the 70th minute he threaded a perfectly-weighted through ball to DeAndre Yedlin on the right. The Spurs defender centered for John Brooks who finished from close range to pull the side back within a goal.
Considering the circumstances, the Americans could have been content with a 3-3 away draw following Danny Williams’ 88th minute equalizer, but Bradley’s engine refused to settle for the tie. In the 90th minute the nine-year national team veteran made a penetrating run through the Dutch midfield before providing a similar pass in on the right to Jordan Morris, who centered for Wood for the winner.Against the world champions, Bradley once again set out to set the tone on the U.S. effort. Though the USA surrendered a 12th minute goal to Mario Goetze, Bradley, who was making his 98th international appearance, took the reins to pull the side back into the game.
Under pressure following the strike, the Toronto FC midfielder made it look easy when he navigated through two German attackers in the area, then evaded a third to open up a midfield run and laying off for Timmy Chandler at the midfield stripe.
As the U.S. clawed back into the match, Bradley found another moment of brilliance, sending a pinpoint cross from the right to a streaking Mix Diskerud, the midfielder collecting off his chest and scissoring the equalizer back across goal in the 41st minute.
According to ProZone, Bradley completed (52) and received (48) the most passes of any U.S. player, and proved most effective clogging up the midfield, intercepting 11 German passes.
“He was captain, which is something very special as well. People were just thinking holy moley, this guy is just unstoppable,” said Klinsmann.
With Clint Dempsey remaining absent from U.S. camp, the two matches in Europe this month also mark the fourth and fifth straight games Bradley has acted as captain. Both with his play and the team’s results, it appears Bradley is embracing the leadership responsibility, as the U.S. has gone 3-1-1 when he’s worn the armband this year.
“He’s taking it to Germany, and he’s kind of giving the team so much energy and belief that you can actually make a surprise happen. We kind of made two surprises happen within a couple of days.”
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup