Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
As we head toward the new year, and a new World Cup qualifying cycle approaches, it is becoming more and more apparent that Michael Bradley is looking ready to wear the captain’s armband when 2013 gets into full swing.
Jurgen Klinsmann may not be thinking about that transition right now, and doesn’t really have to think about it with no games until February, but with each passing standout performance for AS Roma, Bradley is looking more and more like the best American player on the planet and he looks like a player who is poised to lead the national team when qualifying commences.
Carlos Bocanegra has done an admirable job as captain. He combines toughness with a fiery demeanor and motivating presence for younger players, but at 33 he is clearly in the twilight of his national team career. When he suffered a hamstring injury early in the U.S. team’s recent friendly against Russia, it offered us a good glimpse into the future of the captaincy.
No, Bradley didn’t grab the armband that day (Tim Howard wore the armband the rest of the match) but Bradley played like any team would want a captain too, almost willing the team to a draw with his relentless and high-level work in midfield.
He looked every bit like a captain, something that had to be clear to his U.S. teammates.
Bradley has always had the look of a future captain since he started playing regularly for the national team. He was never afraid to take on a leadership role on U.S. youth national teams, though in his earlier years there were questions about his red-hot temper and how that would work for someone wearing the armband.
Bradley is a much more controlled player now. He plays with passion but generally does a good job of controlling the rage that used to make more regular appearances (a brief flash of anger in the team’s road qualifying win against Antigua & Barbuda the only notable appearance of that temper in recent memory).
Experience, maturity, and more recently fatherhood, have helped to bring Bradley to a great moment in his life and career, and his high level of play coupled with his fearless take-no-prisoners personality make him ideally-suited to be the national team’s leader.
There used to be a time when Landon Donovan was, at least in the eyes of some, was considered someone who might spend time as U.S. captain before we reached the Bradley era, but Donovan never really carried that sort of role with the team and now that his future is uncertain, it makes it even more likely that Bradley’s time to be captain will be upon us sooner than later.
Tim Howard would also make a good choice, but goalkeepers generally aren’t made captains because of the on-field leadership role required and the ease with with a field player can handle in-game responsibilities in that role. Clint Dempsey is also respected enough to carry the role, but he has never really been the captain type. Not in New England, not at Fulham, not at Tottenham and never with the U.S. national team. He has always let his play do the talking. He has never really been a ‘let me lead the way’ kind of player.
Bradley is perfectly-suited for that role because not only does he carry the respect of the younger generation of players who have seen his career blossom, but he has also earned the respect of veterans who have watched him step up in the national team’s most important matches over the past 3-4 years and deliver. His excellent play for Roma has only solidified his standing among his U.S. teammates.
There isn’t likely to be a ceremony, or announcement, no real event to mark the passing of the torch from Bocanegra to Bradley, but there really doesn’t need to be one. Bradley’s captaincy will begin with him walking on the field sporting the armband, which he stands a good chance of wearing for a long time.
That moment will be significant not only because it will mark the latest accomplishment in an outstanding career for Bradley, but also because it will serve as a symbolic marking of a new era for American soccer, one where a new generation of players will be ready to step up, and one where they will have the perfect captain to lead them into their new roles.
We don’t know exactly when Bradley will be given the armband, but with each passing day it becomes clear that the day is rapidly approaching.