Bradley still waiting to get untracked for Americans
THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be Michael Bradley's World Cup.
At age 26, he was going to be the engine to spearhead the Americans' quest to reach the round of 16 and perhaps beyond. He still can accomplish that, but after two matches, Brazil 2014 has been anything but his cup of tea.
"Very cruel game sometimes," Bradley said after Sunday's 2-2 draw with Portugal in Manaus.
In the USA's 2-1 win over Ghana on June 16, Bradley played well below the high standards he has set for himself and the great expectations from fans and media. He did not control the ball as much as expected.
Bradley's game improved considerably Sunday, but like it or not, he will be remembered for a pair of plays that changed the course of the Group G match. He failed to score on a point-blank attempt in the 55th minute, when Ricardo Costa blocked his shot. With the USA clinging to a 2-1 advantage in the final minute of stoppage time, Varela stripped Bradley of the ball at midfield and started the scoring sequence that led to his equalizing goal seconds later.
"The ball popped up, and I was able to make a few quick steps and get there," Bradley told reporters. "It was tight and unfortunately, I wasn't able to make a good enough play to keep it for us or get a foul. At that point, the ball turns over and it's up to us to deal with the situation.
"I put my heart and soul into every game, every time I step on the field. There are certainly no regrets in my book."
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann wouldn't criticize his star midfielder publicly.
"Michael is undoubtedly one of our key players and I think he showed that tonight," Klinsmann said after the game. "He has an engine that is unbelievable. He's covering up for other players all over the place. His vision and his passing is just outstanding. It's not going to be a perfect game all the time. I'm not expecting perfect games from anybody."
Bradley can bury the past two games with a scintillating performance against Germany in Recife on Thursday, especially if the Americans advance to the knockout round.
"I'm absolutely sure that Michael will grow big-time into this tournament," Klinsmann said. "There's no better stage to do it than in the next game against Germany. Every game you play now is getting bigger, so that's when you want to see those things coming through."
* The United States' 2-2 World Cup draw with Portugal is almost certainly the most-watched soccer game ever in the U.S. The Nielsen company said that Sunday's gripping game was seen by an average of 24.7 million viewers on ESPN and Univision. That matches it with the 24.7 million U.S. viewers who watched the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
ESPN said an additional 490,000 people streamed coverage of the game on their mobile devices through the company's app. Streaming numbers for 2010 weren't immediately available, but it's very unlikely they were that high, because streaming apps were not as sophisticated then.
"It indicates that a large group in our audience is really following the story of the World Cup, which is really terrific," said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president of programming.
The last-minute goal by Portugal may have disappointed U.S. fans, but not television executives. It means Thursday's U.S. match against Germany, instead of being relatively meaningless, likely will decide whether the team advances. Because it will air during the daytime, it's unlikely to match TV ratings for the Portugal game, but ESPN expects big numbers for its mobile app.
* Assistant Germany coach Hansi Flicks said captain Philipp Lahm would continue to play in midfield and not return to his natural position as right back, a move that would bolster the defense. Lahm was unconvincing in a 2-2 draw against Ghana, giving away the ball before the Africans scored the second goal.
"We see him in the midfield, he gives us order and balance," Flick said.
Meanwhile, midfielder Sami Khedira (knee) and defender Jerome Boateng (thigh) were cleared to practice again after getting hurt against Ghana.