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Bradley, U.S. still breathing

June 18, 2010
By Luke Cyphers
ESPN The Magazine

JOHANNESBURG -- The celebration said it all. Which is good, because the guy who started it doesn't like to talk much.

Michael Bradley just scored a goal that kept U.S. hopes alive in the 2010 World Cup, and before he headed for the corner flag to enjoy the moment in front of a phalanx of American fans, he waved his entire team in with him.

The glorious dogpile atop the 22-year-old American midfielder, the son of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, will no doubt go down in family lore. Someday. After all, Michael's splendid finish off Jozy Altidore's perfect headed assist tied the match in the 82nd minute at 2-2, after the Americans dug themselves a two-goal hole and looked to be facing almost certain elimination.

On Friday, though, both Bradleys demurred on the family angle, and after the match would talk only about the team. Asked if he felt anything special as a father when his son scored, Bob Bradley said, "My honest emotions at that time were just to see the group."

Like father, like son. "To lose the game today meant that in all likelihood the tournament was over for us," Michael said. "When we go down 2-0, to be able to fight back and to stick together and to come away with an important point, very good result, very proud of everybody."

But it was fitting that Bradley the younger scored the equalizer. He played an outstanding all-around match, doing his customary running and disrupting of the opposing attack.

When he was joined in midfield by subs Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu after the half, the Americans started to take control of the match.

"We weren't happy with the way that we played in the first half, and so we just said to each other, that's done, but now we've got 45 minutes to turn it around," Michael said. "We pushed the game hard. We closed them down, we pressed, we played balls forward, we ran, tackled, fought. The commitment from every guy to just keep going until the end was great."

Suddenly, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Altidore posed huge problems up front for Slovenia, with Donovan scoring the first U.S. goal in the 48th minute. "We totally dominated the second half," Dempsey said.

Altidore's hard work throughout the game paid off in Bradley's equalizer. He rose for a long pass from Donovan and headed it down perfectly to his onrushing teammate, who rushed past a Slovenia defender and pounded it into the back of the net. "To not only be in a good position to win the header but to knock the header down into space, great play," Michael said. "I thought Jozy had a great game for us."

He wasn't the only one. The guy at the bottom of the dogpile played OK, too. Not that he or his dad would tell anybody that. That individual stuff, that family stuff, isn't the point right now. It's the group. And the group's still here.

"A lot of times in a World Cup, you start the tournament and it's just about being able to survive, to keep yourself in it," Michael said. "And right now we're still breathing."