Michael Bradley providing leadership for U.S. men’s soccer team

When U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley speaks, he stares straight ahead, chooses every word deliberately, and pauses between thoughts — eerily like his father, Bob Bradley, the former U.S. national team coach.

He isn’t one to let the world in on his feelings. But this week, there is more than a hint of emotion in Bradley’s voice, and who can blame him?

On Sept. 30, Bradley and his wife, Amanda, had their first child, a boy named Luca. “It sounds cliché, but his birth completed me,” he said. “A baby teaches you to be unselfish.”

Six days later, he scored his first goal for Italian Serie A club Roma in a 2-0 win over Atalanta. On Monday, he was on a plane headed to Miami, where he is training with the U.S. national team this week in advance of Friday’s World Cup qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda.

Bradley missed the past two World Cup qualifying matches with a thigh injury. His absence was especially noticeable in the 2-1 loss at Jamaica, as the Americans could have used his tackles, timely runs and technique on the ball. Although just 25, he has been called up to the U.S. team 70 times, so the squad has come to rely on his leadership.

“I am extremely happy to have Michael back because he became one of the leaders of this group the last few years,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He took that very positively, and stepped up club career. They’re very happy with him at Roma. His presence and qualities are something we need.”

When Bob Bradley was fired last summer and replaced with Klinsmann, many wondered how Michael would handle the situation and whether his relationship with the new coach would be awkward. Not a chance. Bradley remained the consummate professional, and his father, now the national coach of Egypt, continues to support the U.S. team from afar.

“It was a very honest relationship from the first moment on. I told him right away, ‘I have the highest respect for Bob, an admiration for what he did, now it is down to me to continue the work that he and Bruce [Arena] started.’ ” said Klinsmann. “I told him that there would be no problem at all.”

Bradley agreed.

“My dad and I are both realistic and we know this is how the business works,” Bradley said. “We knew he wouldn’t be national coach for 20 years, and I’m not so naïve to think that no matter what I do I’d be a given on the national team for the next 15 years. We both want wants best for the U.S. team. My passion for the game and my country hasn’t changed from the first time I was called up by Bruce to all the games I played under my dad to now with Jurgen.”

Bradley said playing in Italy has made him a more “complete” player. He is very impressed with how the teams prepare for matches, the attention to detail, and the fighting spirit of the players. He grew up watching Serie A on TV as a kid, and says it’s a dream come true to make a living there.

“Fighting my way onto a big club like Roma, I can prove to everybody that I can play at the highest level,” he said. “Every week, we face the absolute highest level of pressure, so when I step on the field for the national team, I have a certain edge that helps me win midfield battles.”

And that is exactly what Klinsmann is counting on Friday night.