Americans Abroad: Bradley's play in Italy leads to Klinsmann call-up
If there's one thing that U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made clear during his time at the helm, it's that playing regularly means everything. Sterling reputations and past successes are nice, but what's happening presently is what determines whether a player gets the chance to wear a name-less U.S. kit during FIFA fixture dates.
"I sent a message in my first get-together that, 'The most important thing is that you guys play,'" Klinsmann said. "'If you are on the bench somewhere -- it doesn't matter in Europe, in the MLS or in Mexico -- you have a problem coming in here.'"
Michael Bradley is a quintessential example of Klinsmann's hard-nosed approach. After falling out of favor with Borussia Monchengladbach, Bradley, who for a long while was considered an automatic starter for the United States, was left off Klinsmann's roster for last month's friendlies against Costa Rica and Belgium.
Bradley found his way to Chievo Verona in Italy's Serie A, a place where few Americans have gone before him, but a place where he's become a consistent starter after getting acclimated to his new surroundings, coaches and teammates. It's no surprise that after winning his way into the starting XI, Bradley was reintroduced to the national team for October friendlies with Honduras and Ecuador.
"I was really pleased with his move," Klinsmann said. "We didn't call him in last time, because he had to sort that out. It will really help him in his learning curve. Going to Italy as a midfielder in an environment where they are tactic fanatics will teach him a lot: To read the game better, anticipate the game better and to know exactly where to go into certain spaces and where not to go in certain spaces."
Bradley, who isn't yet a regular starter under Klinsmann, has operated as a right-sided midfielder for Chievo, where he's also assumed set-piece duties. During his latest performance, a 90-minute stint in a scoreless draw with current league-leader Juventus over the weekend, one of Bradley's corner kicks resulted in a shot that had to be saved off the line.
He's become increasingly more potent in dead-ball situations, even notching an assist off a corner in his debut with Chievo, and he took the U.S. set pieces exclusively once he entered as a halftime substitute in last week's loss to Ecuador. U.S. free kicks are very much Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden territory, but if the two are injured or absent -- which has become more of the norm recently -- the stoic Bradley is emerging as a top option to take those kicks along with Clint Dempsey and Steve Cherundolo.
"At different times in my career it's something I've done, and something that, like everything else in your game, you try to work on it and improve so it can be a real weapon," Bradley said.
With more time to hone that skill as a regular at Chievo, Bradley won't only resume being a shoo-in for a call-up, but he'll also bring something new to the table.
In addition to Bradley, another U.S. player benefiting from regular minutes is the red-hot Herculez Gomez, who continues to thrive in his role for Estudiantes Tecos in Mexico but hasn't yet registered on Klinsmann's radar. Gomez found the back of the net for the fourth consecutive game over the weekend, with three of those goals coming as a substitute in the 63rd minute or later.
His six goals are tied for fourth-most in the league and station him three behind Mexican striker Oribe Peralta. Considering that no forward in the U.S. pool has distinguished himself behind Jozy Altidore, and the United States has mustered just two goals in five games under Klinsmann's watch, one would figure that it's only a matter of time until the 29-year-old Gomez gets another shot on the international stage.
Aside from Gomez's goal, other notables this past week included U.S. U-20 forward Bobby Wood making his season debut for 1860 Munich and former starting U.S. left back Jonathan Bornstein making the bench at Tigres UANL for the first time since August. Here's how all of the Americans playing abroad fared over the past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):