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Michael Bradley's leadership and play has keyed turnaround for US men's soccer team

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

HARRISON, N.J. -- If last fall wasn't the lowest point of Michael Bradley's soccer career, he could certainly see the bottom from where he stood.

His club team, Toronto FC, had just become the first to lose an MLS Cup final despite not giving up a shot on goal. A month earlier, the U.S. national team had become the first to open the final round of World Cup qualifying with consecutive losses.

As the captain of both teams, Bradley had gone down with the ship twice. And he had grown tired of it.

So less than 10 months later, Bradley has willed himself and those around him to new heights: Toronto is on pace to become the most successful regular-season team in MLS history and the national team, which returns to World Cup qualifying Friday, is unbeaten this year.

Bradley says he's not surprised by any of that.

"Yeah, I did envision it this way," he said this week. "When you go through moments where things don't go your way, there's no time to feel sorry for yourself. There's no time to stop.

"When you have a group of guys who understand that, who embrace that, who come in every day ready to leave everything else on the outside and give everything they have to make the group better, that's when it starts to get fun."

It's certainly starting to get fun with the national team, which can move a big step closer to an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance with a victory over Costa Rica on Friday at Red Bull Arena. With four qualifiers left, the U.S. trails Mexico and Costa Rica in the six-team tournament, which will send three teams to Russia 2018.

"You get to this point in qualifying and it's all there," Bradley said. "All the work that we put in this year was for these next four games.

"It's been a good year so far. But I also understand that we've not done anything yet. The biggest games are still to come."

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