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What the USMNT is asking of Michael Bradley under new coach Gregg Berhalter

PHOENIX — The U.S. men’s national team arrived in Arizona with a squad of new faces being led by a new coach. Michael Bradley was the notable exception.

The USMNT mainstay at midfield was a somewhat surprising inclusion in new head coach Gregg Berhalter’s January camp. Bradley heads into Sunday’s friendly against Panama with 142 national team caps (the next most on this roster is Gyasi Zardes at 40). He’s by far the most experienced active player in the USMNT talent pool.

That surprise has more to do with the past than who Bradley is as a player today. Bradley, 31, was in Trinidad as the USMNT failed to reach the 2018 World Cup. Him and Toronto FC teammate Jozy Altidore were unfairly subjected to boos in stateside MLS road games.

It was a sign that many USMNT supporters wanted the national team to turn the page on the “old guard” and go all in on the future of U.S. soccer.

Berhalter, though, doesn’t see it that way at all. He thinks Bradley brings value that’s essential to a squad full of players getting their first taste of USMNT experience.

“One thing I imagine with Michael is he can share his experience,” Berhalter said. “He’s played in so many big games. He’s been around for multiple World Cups, so he can share both good and bad. I think that’s important.”

This January roster is entirely made up of MLS talent because the in-season European clubs don’t release players to national teams on non-FIFA windows. That presents a challenge to Berhalter. He’s trying to set a foundation, create a culture and teach a specific style of play.

Yet, the players he’s had access to this month won’t necessarily be regular call-ups. Bradley, having spent years captaining this team, still has the potential to be a part of Berhalter’s plan going forward.

That was made clear when Berhalter asked Bradley to be the player he’s always been.

“He told me to be myself,” Bradley said. “To be a good player. To be sharp and to be into it everyday. To find the right ways with the younger players. To help them, to encourage them, to push them, to lead them. All the things that make me who I am.”

And that was the role he took in training. As the USMNT practiced corners and set pieces, Bradley stood near midfield watching, assessing and acting as a player/coach at times.

“We want to play football,” Bradley said. “We want to be a team that has ideas and is able to put the game on our terms.”

There is no Christian Pulisic on this roster. Bradley is the player this young team had to look at for leadership because, after all, this isn’t his first coaching change. He’s been forced to adapt roles since his father, Bob Bradley, was fired in 2011. Jurgen Klinsmann, Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan all had different expectations.

Berhalter wants Bradley to do what he does best and lead the next wave of talent.

“Part of our journey together started with acknowledging where we are right now and where we need to go,” Berhalter said. “And how we’re gonna get there and what we’re willing to do to actually get there. So, experienced players are very important in helping the young guys come along.”

“He told me to be myself. To be a good player.”

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