RIO DE JANEIRO — There were questions, when Jurgen Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley as U.S. national team coach three years ago, how he would handle Bradley’s son, Michael, a midfielder and one of the most reliable and respected players on the American team.
Would it be awkward? Would Bradley want to play for the man who replaced his father?
It turns out Klinsmann is fiercely loyal to the younger Bradley and has been his biggest supporter at this World Cup as Bradley has faced criticism on social media and from fans back home. Bradley plays a crucial role on the team as the fulcrum who links the defense with the attack. He typically touches the ball more than any other U.S. player, his passes are known to be spot-on, and his calm demeanor is essential in high-pressure matches.
In this World Cup, though, he has admittedly not played his best and has not created as much offense as fans are used to seeing from him. He seemed to be off his game against Ghana, missed a point-blank, close-range shot against Portugal, and was partly to blame for Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo’s equalizing stoppage-time goal because the play began with Bradley losing the ball in a scrum.
He played better against Germany, but not quite well enough to quiet the critics.
Klinsmann defended Bradley, who, according to FIFA has run a total of 23.6 miles in three games, more than any other player in the World Cup. He has also completed 85 percent of his passes, not as precise as the 91 percent he completed with Roma in the Italian league, but still very good.
“I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far,” Klinsmann said. “I know that he has another gear in him. We came through this group because of his influence on the field. Then, if he steps it up another notch, with other players as well, this gives us a big hope now getting ready for the knockout stage, because we know that players have not reached their highest spot yet. He is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him.”
Klinsmann praised Bradley’s vision, leadership, defense and work rate.
“He has covered so much ground, he is all over the place,” Klinsmann said. “The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding. It is one of the reasons why we barely gave away any chances for Germany in that game, Portugal the same way.
“We know that he can add something extra to it going forward. He also needs to help with the team by shifting higher up. If we can get Michael more into that role behind Clint [Dempsey], I think we are even more dangerous then. So there is more to come, but so far I am very happy with his performance.”
Bradley and the rest of the U.S. players face another tough challenge Tuesday in their Round of 16 game against Belgium in Salvador. The Belgian midfield is loaded with elite talent from Europe’s biggest leagues — Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United) and Marouare Fellaini (Manchester United), just to name a few.
“We’re certainly proud of what we’ve done so far, just to get out of the group because I don’t think many people gave us much of a chance, so there’s certainly a feeling of satisfaction and excitement as there should be,” Bradley said. “But we want more.
“There’s still a feeling that now we have more to give. Every guy has that much more to find physically, mentally, and so we use these few days to recover, to prepare and step on the field on Tuesday against a very good team but knowing it’s all there for us.’’