Michael Bradley silencing the doubters 

March, 14, 2012

There are muddy little pools of fan hatred that form around certain U.S. National Team players from time to time, based on perceptions that can harden into a message-board conventional wisdom that cling to a player for years.

Kicking that caked-on residue off your boots can take some time, especially if you're a prominent Yank. Just ask Landon Donovan, once labeled soft, or Clint Dempsey, who got pegged as lazy.

Another example is Michael Bradley.

After a rough 2011, in which he was stranded on the bench during a spring loan at Aston Villa and abandoned by his German club Borussia Monchengladbach; saw his father fired as national team coach after a Gold Cup final loss to Mexico, and found himself out of favor in the early months of new coach Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure, the U.S. midfielder's recent play has dispelled any doubts that he belongs on the field in a central role.

He has starred for his new Italian club, Chievo Verona, and put together back-to-back outstanding efforts for the Yanks in away friendly victories over Slovenia and Italy. And along the way, he's converted, or at least silenced, a group of U.S. fans who thought he only played because of his last name.

Bradley isn't gloating about any of this, and won't wrestle in the mud with critics. But in a phone interview this week, he left no doubt that he's come through the recent tough times with a confidence that shows up each time he suits up.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.