After a 20 year career former USMNT captain Michael Bradley has announced he will retire at the end of the 2023 MLS season. While he was a regular throughout his career in the national team, Bradley has not been called up since 2019. He began his career with the national team at 18 years-old under Bruce Arena prior to the 2006 World Cup. From there, he would emerge as one of the best central midfielders in the history of the USMNT. His career would see him play a part in some of the most memorable events in team history, for better, or worse.
Bradley etched his name in US Soccer lore by putting the first ever dos in dos a cero with a brace against Mexico in February of 2009.
A year later in the 2010 World Cup he would come up with a huge goal against Slovenia to complete a comeback to keep the USA alive for their final group match against Algeria.
His final goal for the national team came against Mexico during qualification for the 2018 World Cup against Mexico at El Azteca.
On the club level, Bradley began his pro career with the NY MetroStars before moving to Heerenveen, Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa, Chevio, and Roma. He seemed destined to establish himself in Europe and carry the torch players moving abroad as the 2010 team began being filtered out.
Of course, Bradley would come in for some criticism as well. Under manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Bradley was asked to play higher up the field in an attacking midfield role and never settled into the role. Klinsmann was a prodigious experimenter and Bradley would become something of his Frankenstein’s monster. He never quite fit in the role, Klinsmann wouldn’t move him out of it and refused to give another option like Benny Feilhaber or Sacha Kljestan an opportunity in the position.
His play in a more forward role wouldn’t be the only thing that would see Bradley get on the wrong side of USMNT fans. He also made the decision to come north of home when he joined Toronto FC ahead of the 2014 MLS season. This move and the habit of others in the player pool to either return to the USA or never leave MLS in the first place would set the narrative about the harm of players in MLS on the USMNT that is with us today.
Bradley would captain the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup and have an adequate tournament .The USA emerged out of a tough group with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany to contend with and then were eliminated by Belgium in the first knockout round. Bradley did run more than any other player at the tournament in the group stage though.
Of course, Bradley’s lowest point for the national team would come in 2017 as he captained the team on the infamous night in October of that year when the USA would be eliminated by Trinidad & Tobago from the 2018 World Cup. That night capped a difficult stretch for the USMNT as the team struggled in the 2015 Gold Cup and lost the initial two matches of World Cup qualifying in the hex.
That year would also see his most significant club achievement as he led Toronto FC to the first ever treble in MLS history by taking home the Supporter’s Shield, Canadian Cup, and MLS Cup.
Toronto would return to the MLS Cup in 2019 but fall to the Seattle Sounders in the final. That year would also see Bradley’s final match for the USMNT as he would make way for new players ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
All told, Bradley retires with 151 caps and 17 goals for the national team. His legacy will be a mixed one as his decision to come back to MLS and subsequent national team struggles often saw him being the best player on the pitch for a group of players labeled the “lost generation” for the USA. At the same time, he is perhaps vastly underrated. His talent and leadership were undeniable and he is among the best central midfielders, and indeed players, ever to suit up for the Red, White, and Blue.