SAO PAULO -- Michael Bradley made his mark at the 2010 World Cup. Four years later, he's ready to make an even bigger impression.
The U.S. midfielder is now 26 years old, at the peak of his powers, and the combination of experience plus a more attack-minded role under Jurgen Klinsmann has him ready to deliver for the U.S. squad in a more prominent way. He also seems more relaxed, willing to engage the media in a way that he wasn't in the past.
"I think as you get older you mature, and you start to understand the game at a higher level," he said at Tuesday's news conference. "You have experience of having been in certain situations, having played in different types of games. The hope is always that as you get older, the better you get. I'm somebody that loves to train, I love to play, I love to compete. So I enjoy every day going out and trying to challenge myself to improve, to make myself better. To take the things that I'm good at and make them count for that much more."
Bradley will need to do precisely that in the Americans' first group match against Ghana on June 16. The game figures to be a midfield battle against the likes of Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Andre Ayew. The U.S. midfielder didn't need much reminding of what transpired four years ago, when Ghana eliminated the Americans 2-1 in the round of 16. And stylistically, much about Ghana remains the same.
"[Ghana] cause you trouble, especially in attacking part of the field," he said. "They have guys who have a mix of athleticism and technical ability, the way they can take certain plays and almost improvise and turn a half play all of a sudden into a chance. We have to understand what they're all about."
But four years is an eternity in soccer, especially at international level. Players and coaches come and go, so there figure to be some differences, as well.
"In 2010, they played more 4-1-4-1, were pretty organized," he said. "I think those little details are still to be seen, how they're now going to approach the first game against us."
Bradley added that the team took in the second half of Monday's friendly between Ghana and South Korea, one that ended with the Black Stars coasting to a 4-0 win. Yet as impressive as the result was for Ghana, Bradley insisted he wasn't going to read too much into the performance.
"I think it's hard to take much from any of these warm-up games," he said. "Teams are trying different things, different guys get put on the field in different spots. It's always important to remember that players get put in difficult spots in these games. Now, you want to be sharp, you want to play well. You're trying to make sure as the tournament gets closer, there's confidence and there's momentum. But at the same time, they're still warm-up games."
But the real games are quickly approaching, and Bradley knows that he's ready.
"I feel like I'm a more complete player, I feel like I'm a better player," he said. "Still, at the end of the day it's up to me to make sure that I'm able to take that and make sure it shows in the game."
No doubt, Klinsmann and the rest of his U.S. teammates will be counting on him.
-- Among the notable impressions from last Saturday's friendly win over Nigeria was the balance between attack and defense. The U.S. built a stable defensive platform in the early going, and then picked its spots to get forward. U.S. defender Matt Besler indicated that approach is something the Americans will look to replicate against Ghana.
"We want to be a team that possesses the ball and is able to create multiple chances throughout the game," he said. "At this level, against teams we're going to face, we have to be extremely smart about how we go about that. We have to stay compact, we have to get our shape, and we have to make it tough for teams to break us down. If we can get the right balance, that's when we're going to be most effective. That's what we're trying to do as we approach the games."
-- While other teams at the World Cup have been deeply hurt by injuries to key players, the U.S. has remained largely unscathed. But that didn't stop Bradley from sparing a thought for a pair of former teammates who have been ruled out of the tournament. Kevin Strootman, who played alongside Bradley at Roma, will miss the World Cup after tearing his ACL last March. And Germany's Marco Reus, who shared the field with Bradley when the two were at Borussia Moenchengladbach, has been sidelined after partially tearing ligaments in his left ankle.
"Those are two friends who you hate to see them having to miss an opportunity like this," Bradley said about Strootman and Reus. "Part of sports is dealing with injuries, and knowing that there's moments when they happen and there's nothing you can do. But I speak for any of us and say that you hate to see it."
-- In many ways, Besler's rise to national team prominence is astonishing. Four years ago, he was struggling to get playing time at club level with Sporting Kansas City. Now he's a mainstay in the back. Besler insists that there was never one turning point that kick-started his career.
"I think for me, it's just been about the attitude during the whole process of always wanting more," he said. "Having that desire to always want to achieve the next thing. When you get your first cap, it's great, and it's a big moment, but after the game, it's 'What's next?' You make the World Cup team, it's a great moment in your career, but then it's 'What's next?' It's the Ghana match. It's just having that attitude of having the next thing that you want to achieve in your career."