The World Cup did not bring rave reviews for Michael Bradley. He was cast out of position and questioned for his inability to carry the attack for the US national team, prompting some analysts to question his performances.
The Houston Dynamo are not buying it.
Regardless of his performance in Brazil, Bradley is one of several Toronto FC players, including fellow winter signing Jermain Defoe, that the Dynamo are well aware can hurt them when they travel north of the border to face TFC Saturday (6 p.m. CT; CSN Plus).
“I’m expecting the Michael Bradley we know,” said center back David Horst. “He played in a World Cup. That in itself is amazing. Played good, played bad, it doesn’t matter anymore. He’s back with his Toronto team and he has a big responsibility with that team and we’ll see the Michael Bradley we’ve seen in MLS this year.”
This will be Houston’s first time seeing Bradley since his return from Europe, but that does not mean they are unfamiliar with him. With players such as Ricardo Clark and Brad Davis having shared time at consecutive World Cups with the central midfielder, they know the quality he can bring to a midfield.
On Saturday Houston will attempt to keep him out of positions where can direct TFC’s attack without impediment. That means applying pressure, something they failed to do on New York Red Bulls midfielder Eric Alexander last weekend, when he hit a long ball over the top for RBNY's first goal.
“We all have to get on the same page,” Clark said, “whether it’s dropping as a team or stepping as a team. I think that would help.”
Noted head coach Dominic Kinnear: "[Bradley] can make the right pass, make the difficult pass. He’s had a good career and I don't think just because he’s playing against us he’s going to take his foot off the pedal. He has that inner drive, which I think is important for players.”
Bradley is hardly TFC's only worrisome player. Defoe has shrugged off any semblance of a European hangover, showing the skill that made him a star at the highest levels of English soccer. While the Orange will try and keep him under wraps, cutting off the Designated Player's supply lines will be important.
That’s where Bradley comes into play.
Houston know that TFC’s midfield general brings skill and an elite ability to read the game. As for those World Cup reviews: They likely will not be included in the scouting report.
“People expected a lot from Michael and he had a lot on his shoulders, but he’s never a guy you’re going to question about his attitude or work ethic,” said Bradley’s World Cup teammate Davis. “He’s kind of their engine in midfield. It’s going to be a tough battle for all of us. If we can win that battle, we can win the game.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.