SAO PAULO (AP) — Maybe this is a sign the U.S. national team has matured: While much of America celebrated advancement to the World Cup knockout stage, Michael Bradley thinks the accomplishment has to be viewed with perspective.
“It’s something to be proud of, getting out of the group, especially given how difficult it was, but we want more,” the 26-year-old midfielder said Saturday. “There’s no feeling of satisfaction at the moment. We want to be here for another few games. We want to continue to push and push and see how far we can take this.”
In the knockout phase of consecutive World Cups for the first time, the Americans play Belgium on Tuesday and hope to meet Argentina or Switzerland in a quarterfinal. Bradley said the U.S. is proud to have survived a first-round group that included second-ranked Germany, fourth-ranked Portugal and nemesis Ghana. But he also concludes “it’s not anything yet.”
“You get to this point in the tournament and you understand that to keep it going and to take it even further, every guy has to find more,” he said. “Every guy has to look at himself and physically find more to give, mentally be that much sharper.”
Bradley hasn’t scored any goals and has had some heavy touches in Brazil. But the son of former U.S. coach Bob Bradley has been the tournament’s Energizer Bunny. He covered a World Cup-leading 23.6 miles (38 kilometers) during the first round. Asked whether he realized he’d nearly run a marathon in Brazil, Bradley offered a quick “Ha!” and hustled to a practice field.
His box-to-box efforts have made him a fan favorite, although the drop in his performance as he’s been pushed higher up the field at the World Cup has led to some criticism. The American Outlaws chanted “Michael Bradley! Michael Bradley!” after he was admonished by the referee for a studs-up tackle on Thomas Mueller in the 45th minute of Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Germany.
“I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I know that he has another gear in him.”
After starting his career with the New York-New Jersey MetroStars, Bradley went on to play for Heerenveen, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Aston Villa, Chievo Verona and Roma before returning to Major League Soccer in January. His $6 million salary is the league’s highest this year and his $6.5 million in total compensation is second to Seattle’s Clint Dempsey, his American teammate.
“He always wants to win — in a little game and a big game. And that’s great to have in a teammate,” American defender Omar Gonzalez said.
Bradley acknowledged after the opening 2-1 win over Ghana that he can play better. He was in more dangerous positions in the second match against Portugal, but he gave up the ball to Eder late in stoppage time, starting the sequence that led to Portugal’s equalizer in a 2-2 draw.
“We came through this group because of his influence on the field,” Klinsmann said. “We know that players have not reached their highest spot yet. He is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him. He has covered so much ground. He is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.