Soccer America
Wednesday February 6th, 2008

HOUSTON -- Both coaches agree that controlling midfield play is likely to decide Wednesday's U.S.-Mexico friendly (ESPN2, Univision, 9 p.m. ET).

For 20-year-old Michael Bradley, currently Team USA's hottest commodity thanks to a scoring streak in the Netherlands, it means testing himself against veteran Mexican midfielders Pavel Pardo and Gerardo Torrado.

"He's on a roll, you can say that," said Bob Bradley, the U.S. head coach and father of Michael.

Michael Bradley has scored in his last five games for Dutch club Heerenveen, upping his league total to 12 goals in 22 games, and his tally in all competitions to 16 goals.

"No idea," says Bradley when asked to recall when he last scored goals at such a pace.

Since his breakout pro year in 2005, playing for his father with the MLS MetroStars, and for the U.S. national team, Bradley has been called a defensive midfielder. It's a label he doesn't accept.

"I'm a midfielder," says Bradley. "When you look around the world, and you see midfielders who can attack and defend and chip in with their share of goals, that really helps their teams."

Mexico's central midfield has a significant experience advantage over the U.S. Pardo, 31, and Torrado, 28, have each played in two World Cups.

For the U.S., besides Bradley, there's 21-year-old Maurice Edu, 22-year-old Benny Feilhaber and 24-year-old Ricardo Clark.

No worries, says Landon Donovan: "The thing about [Bradley] is you don't worry what you're going to get from him. A lot of times with younger players you see a lot of ups and downs. Not with him."

Donovan believes Bradley's Dutch league experience has made him a more all-around player.

"The first time I saw him was before the ['06] World Cup," says Donovan. "He was in extended training with us. We looked at him and thought, 'He's a pretty good player. He moves well. He's effective.'

"But I think since he's been in Holland he really knows what it means to be a pro and what it means to help us. The Dutch game is a lot passing, a lot footwork, he's very good at that. He makes very good passes, the right passes, most of the time. And he's become a scorer."

Bradley scored his first goal for the U.S. in a 1-0 win over Switzerland in October.

Against Mexico, Bradley's primary concern will be to disrupt Mexico's midfield rhythm. It will mark his first full international against Mexico; he served a yellow-card suspension when the U.S. won 2-1 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last summer.

"In the end we won, so that made it all better," he says. "But during the game it wasn't easy. You watch and you feel you should be helping the team."

On Wednesday, Bradley will have the chance. With the list of clubs interested in his services growing, Bradley's performance may be the most scrutinized of the U.S. players. Can he be as effective for the national team as he has been at the club level?

"Every game is different," he says. "I know against Mexico, all of us, we're looking forward to going out in front of a really big crowd and that's the fun part."

Less then 10,000 tickets were available a day before the game at the 70,000-seat Reliant Stadium.

"When you look at big games, at hard games," says Michael Bradley, "It's always a big advantage if you can win the battle in the midfield. I have a lot of respect for a guy like Pardo, who plays at Stuttgart, and obviously Torrado is a good player, so it will be a good challenge.

"At the same time, we're not going to back down. We're not going to be afraid. We're going to try and get after them. Make it hard for them and see if we can walk off the field with a good result."

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