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TORONTO â€“ US national team captain Michael Bradley was back at work on Thursday morning, training with his club side, Toronto FC, in preparation for the conclusion of the MLS regular season and in anticipation of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
36-plus hours removed from a disastrous result that saw the US crash out of qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, missing out on their first World Cup since 1986, Bradley spoke with the media about what happened and where he goes from here.
â€œVery upset, disappointed, angry that we couldn’t get the job done,â€� said Bradley. â€œWe had 90 minutes to play our way into a World Cup, not needing to rely on anything else, and we let ourselves down. Plain and simple.â€�
A 4-0 win over Panama on Oct. 6 looked to have the US in good position to make amends for their early struggles, but four days later a 2-1 loss in Port of Spain to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as home wins for Honduras and Panama, bounced the Americans down to fifth spot in the Hex.
â€œWe’re not the first big country to miss out and won’t be the last,â€� said Bradley. â€œWe had our chance to get in. On the night, it was a perfect storm in three stadiums that led to us not. When we dropped points along the way, we knew we were going to be at the mercy of a night like that.â€�
â€œA bounce here, ball goes off the outside of Omar Gonzalez’s foot and into the goal, Clint [Dempsey]’s shot goes off the outside of the post at the end… margins were fine,â€� said Bradley. â€œWe have nobody to blame but ourselves for that. When we let the points get away, it meant we lost any ability to be above that stuff. The way things unfolded, we weren’t able to take care of our end of the bargain.
â€œWhen things don’t go well, you have no choice but to stand tall and face the music,â€� added Bradley. â€œThat’s what I’ll do.â€�
Bradley, and his Toronto and US teammate, Jozy Altidore, must now put that disappointment behind them quickly, as TFC has a match on Sunday against their rivals, the Montreal Impact, (5 pm ET | TSN1/4; MLS LIVE in US) before closing the season out against Atlanta United on Decision Day. Beyond lie the playoffs and a shot at MLS Cup redemption.
While Bradley admitted some difficulty at burying the emotion that came with Tuesday night, he said: â€œThe chance to step on the field again couldn’t come quick enough.â€�
â€œThe disappointment is not going away any time soon,â€� continued Bradley. â€œBut, the game never stops. There’s always another chance, always another game, always more out there. As long as I can, I’ll continue to play, compete, work, improve, to help whatever team I’m playing on be successful. That’s not to say it’ll always work out in the way you want, but that won’t stop me.â€�
Bradley has been the driving force behind TFC’s success. Part of the mantra that has defined the season is that Toronto tackle each match in turn, then put it behind them to focus on the next. That habit will come in handy for this situation as well.
â€œI have a huge responsibility here as captain to make sure not one ounce of anger, or frustration, or disappointment carries over. That wouldn’t be fair to anybody; teammates, coaches, our fans,â€� stressed Bradley. â€œI can promise that in no way is the disappointment of not qualifying going to play into what we’re doing here over the next two months. We’ve had an incredible season, we’ve won two trophies, and we are ready to give everything to make sure we lift the third.â€�
Captain for club and country, Bradley turned 30 at the end of July. By the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around, he will be pushing 35. Will the debacle in Trinidad prove the final chapter of his illustrious international career?
â€œWe’ll see,â€� said Bradley. â€œPlaying for my national team, representing my country, has been something that I have always taken a huge amount of pride in. It’s given me some of the proudest moments of my career. And I will continue to work and try to make sure that there are better moments still coming. How that all goes, time will tell.â€�