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Michael the most important Bradley for U.S.

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - United States coach Bob Bradley didn't take the bait, even after watching his 21-year-old son Michael score both goals in a 2-0 win over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

"Right now I'm the coach, it's about the team," Bob said when asked about his son's performance, choosing his words carefully.

Michael, apparently coached off the field by his father too, also downplayed the feat.

"I'm happy we won," Michael said. "We got three points and we beat Mexico, so that's important."

Yes, the United States' win over Mexico in the opening game of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 Cup was important. But at this point, the U.S. - which improved to 9-0-2 in its last 11 games against Mexico on American soil - is supposed to win at home against its border rival.

What was important was how the U.S. won.

Bob knows it, but has to be careful about lavishing praise on his own son. He is a coach who rarely gives much credit to any individual player anyway.

Michael Bradley has solidified a starting role in central midfield over the past year.
Michael knows it too, but he certainly doesn't want to come off cocky. Critics will always question whether he's really good enough to start for the U.S.

Just 21? Dad's the coach? Is Michael really the answer in midfield?

Yes. As long as he keeps scoring.

Michael has solidified a starting role in central midfield over the past year, strengthening an area that could ultimately determine how much of an impact the Americans make next year in the World Cup.

What he hasn't done is score enough. Sure, Michael has been asked to play a more defensive role by his father, but his goal-scoring ability cannot be wasted.

Michael's first goal against Mexico was helped by being in the right place at the right time, but his second, a 30-yard bullet, showed how deadly he is as a goal scorer.

Michael provided a glimpse of what he could offer last season in the Dutch Eredivisie, scoring 20 goals for Heerenveen to set a record for most goals in a single season by an American-born player in Europe.

He left the friendly confines of the high-scoring Dutch league to sign a four- year deal with Germany's Monchengladbach and, after failing to secure a role early in the season, has become a regular starter.

Michael has made 13 appearances this season Monchengladbach, including in the last 12 matches. He's started 11 times, but has scored just once in the more defensive-minded Bundesliga.

But if anything, Michael's only goal proved he has a knack for scoring in crucial situations. With Monchengladbach trailing in the final 10 minutes against German champions Bayern Munich, he scored off a perfect header to help Monchengladbach complete a two-goal rally for a 2-2 draw.

His knack for scoring big goals returned Wednesday when he scored late in the first half to put the U.S. in front and again in the closing seconds to seal the win. He was the first U.S. player to score two goals in a match against Mexico since Steve Moyers did it 19 years ago.

Michael has already made 27 appearances for the U.S., and after teaming with 23-year-old Sacha Kljestan in midfield against Mexico, it's apparent the midfield situation for the U.S. ("I thought we dominated them through the middle," U.S. all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan said), has a lot of potential.

DeMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey, a pair of European veterans, have long been fixtures as outside midfielders, and Bradley and Kljestan add a fresh dynamic that makes all four of them - and the U.S. - more dangerous.

"I think the midfield won the game for us more than anything," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, a central defender, said after the Mexico match.

Kljestan proved last month he's also capable of scoring, carrying a U.S. side that lacked all of its major stars with three goals in a 3-2 win over Sweden in a friendly.

Did Michael's latest performance complete the midfield puzzle? Well, that will not be answered until next year.

The Bradleys realize there's still a lot of work to do to qualify for the Cup, playing nine more qualifiers in a year that includes the Confederations Cup - featuring games against Brazil, Italy and Egypt - and the Gold Cup.

Michael's maturity and improvement during that period - as long as the U.S. qualifies for the World Cup - is more crucial than final scores.

"We know there is more work to do," Bob said, "but [the World Cup is] our goal and we have the confidence that if we do things the right way, then we'll be in South Africa."

That's when the U.S. will need Michael - and his goals - the most.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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