Michael Bradley turned pro way back in 2004 as a snot-nosed 16-year-old. He was drafted 36th overall by the Metrostars and did an interview with a scarf around his neck and way too much gel in his hair, as teenagers are wont to do. Just two years later, he had moved to Heerenveen in the Eredivisie and was earning his first cap for the United States in a May 26 friendly against Venezuela. It only took two more days before he played again for the U.S., in a match against Latvia.
Now, the U.S. is getting ready for the 2015 Gold Cup, where they will look to defend their tournament title, and Bradley is the team's captain. Not just that, but in the team's opener against Honduras, he will claim his 100th cap for his country.
Bradley's time with the U.S. has been nearly all highs, and yet it's still managed to be a rollercoaster. To get your first cap at 18 is amazing, but he was dogged by questions if he really deserved it. And when he became a fixture in the team a year later, establishing himself as the go-to central midfielder at the Gold Cup, allegations of nepotism were thrown around because his father, Bob Bradley, was the coach. Even in recent years, his inability to stick with a club for an extended period of time has been criticized, as was his decision to sign with Toronto FC, and his struggles at last year's Gold Cup did not go unnoticed.
Despite it all, nobody has questioned his quality. He's undoubtedly one of the Americans' best players, if not the best one. And he does it at the most important position on the field too, in the central midfield. The lone problem is that the U.S. only has one of him and he's probably the team's best defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder and attacking midfielder, so how can he play all three?
Now Bradley is the United States' captain, a well-deserved honor and one that comes as no surprise. He's been a leader on the team for years now and most expected him to get the armband earlier. But just because Bradley is now the captain doesn't mean anything will change. He will still be the same industrious player and intense, but understated leader he has always been. That consistency and refusal to let outside factors, or even some inside factors, change him has made him what he is.
Bradley is just 27 years old and he's already getting his 100th cap. It's a phenomenal achievement, and yet he still has so many more to come. He could be over 110 by the end of the year and has at least one more World Cup cycle to go. By the time he's done, he could pass Cobi Jones' 164 caps for the most in U.S. history. But wherever he finishes, he will go down as one of the best the U.S. has ever had.