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A chat with Michael Bradley

It was a breakout year for MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley. After an injury plagued first season with the New Jersey club, Bradley claimed a starting role for the red and black, leading the team in minutes played and scoring a pivotal goal in the regular season finale that propelled his team into the playoffs. The eighteen year old's performance was often of the unsung variety but earned praise from both teammates and caught the eye of both Bruce Arena and European teams. The MetroStars midfielder sat down with Kristian Dyer to discuss his season, his future and reveals that the eyes of European teams are being cast his way.

KD: Michael, thank you for spending your time with ESPNsoccernet. 2005 has been quite a year for you, what sticks out most in your mind?

MB: I think it was a good year for me. Individually I was pleased with the way I played and continued to improve throughout the year. As a team, I thought there were times during the season when we played the best soccer in the league. Obviously when you lose a tough series in the playoffs the way we did, unfortunately that is going to be the thing that you remember and sticks in your head.

KD: Playing for your father had to be a difficult challenge. What's it like to have had Bob Bradley as father and coach?

MB: My dad and I have a great relationship. We're really close, and we both enjoyed the time we were able to spend together for 2 years with the MetroStars. I wouldn't be the player I am today without my dad. I've learned an incredible amount from him, both on and off the field, and I know that will continue to be the case even though he isn't the coach of the MetroStars. We always watch and talk soccer together, and that will always be the case.

KD: How do you balance the challenges of being a teenager with the rigors of being a professional athlete, let alone one expected to not only play, but be a starter in a vital role? What does Michael Bradley do to escape?

MB: For me personally, I don't need an escape. Being a professional, going in to training everyday ready to compete, the pressure of playing well in games...this is all stuff that I love. I can't wait to go into training every day. Obviously, like anyone, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, but being a professional (soccer player) is something I wouldn't trade for anything

KD: Fans were skeptical of you being drafted by the MetroStars, let alone earning a starting role in 2005 in what was essentially your rookie season. Did you and your father ever discuss the nepotism topic that appeared to always be circulating?

MB: Nope, (we) never talked about it and never worried about it. People are always are going to have their own opinions, and I can't control that. From Day 1 I just tried to work hard and improve as a player and earn the respect of my teammates.

KD: You played this season as a defensive midfielder, but that is not your natural position. What role do you see yourself at, on the field, over the next few years?

MB: A lot was made over the fact that defensive midfield was not my "natural position," but that is not entirely true. I've always worked to be a hardworking, two-way midfielder that could get forward and score goals, but could also come back and tackle and breakup plays. Last year at the beginning of the year when I was healthy that was where I played. Even this year, the way we played allowed for a lot of freedom. There were times this year when I was able to get forward, and other times when I needed to be able to play a little deeper behind Amado. I feel like the experience I gained this year means that I can play a number of different ways, whether it be as a pure defensive midfielder who plays in front of the defenders, or a two-way midfielder who gets up and down the field.

KD: Youri Djorkaeff has been highly supportive of you and your play, both on and off the field. What have you gleaned from him, on and off the field?

MB: Youri was an unbelievable player for our team this year. He showed that he is without a doubt one of the best players in the league. He did an incredible job of working with the younger players on our team like myself. The way he carries himself is first-class. He never acted like he was better than anyone. I was able to learn so much from him by playing both with him, and against him in training.

KD: You just concluded a spell with Anderlecht. Was this a training spell or a trial and how did the opportunity come around?

MB: As far as I know it was a trial. They had seen me play, and at the end of the season they contacted my agent about the possibility of me going over there to train for a few weeks.

KD: Did Anderlecht make an offer? Many don't know this, but last season, you spent some time in Holland with Jeff Parke and you were either reportedly offered a contract or they expressed a strong interest in you. Has there been any subsequent interest by this team or any other Dutch side?

MB:The way things were left at Anderlecht was that they were going to have a meeting at some point during their winter break and then contact my agent. As far as Heerenveen, they told me last year they would be keeping an eye on me.

KD: To your knowledge, is Heerenveen still watching you?

MB: I hope so. I absolutely want to play in Europe at some point in my career. Whether that is now, in one year, in two years, in five years....I don't know.

KD: 2005 was a season of triumphs for you but was also a difficult year for you on a personal level as your father was relieved of his position before the season ended. How did you find out about the news and what were your thoughts?

MB: My dad came home one day after practice and told me. I was devastated. No one saw all the hard work he put into our team more than me. He put his heart and soul into it, and everyone on the inside of our team knew that. He deserved to be able to finish what he started.

KD: Did General Manager Alexi Lalas speak to you at all about the decision to replace your father at all? If so, what was discussed?

MB: He spoke to me and said exactly what you would have expected him to say. I didn't need him to say anything though. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure we made the playoffs no matter what.

KD: Finally, what will 2006 hold for Michael Bradley, both on and off the field?

MB: After one full season of playing under my belt, I feel like I'm ready to have even more of an impact next year. I was pleased with the way I was able to improve as the season went on this year, and hopefully I can take that into next year.

KD: Thank you Michael, and have a happy holiday.

MB: Thank you.

Kristian Dyer is a freelance writer who covers MLS and college soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at kristianrdyer@yahoo.com