TIANJIN, China -- Following the United States' 2-2 tie Sunday against the Netherlands, American midfielder Michael Bradley walked into the postgame news conference, and his body language told the whole story. Not only did the U.S. just have victory snatched from its grasp by Gerald Sibon's late equalizer, but the realization that Bradley's second caution in as many games would render him suspended for the team's last group match against Nigeria was beginning to sink in.
When asked how tough his looming suspension will be to cope with given the tame nature of his infractions, Bradley indicated that he was still stewing over his first yellow card.
"I felt the first [yellow card] in the first game was a joke," said Bradley. "Most games, that's not even a foul ... The one today, I should have been a little bit smarter. At that point in the game, the ref, he's looking to make that call. On that one, I should know that I need to play the ball."
Bradley's experience and ball-winning ability will be badly missed against a side as physical as Nigeria, but compounding matters is the fact that joining him on the sidelines will be attacker Freddy Adu. It was Adu's incisive running and have-no-fear approach that helped the U.S. get off the mat in the first half when they were in danger of being counted out. And it was his perfectly weighted pass that released Sacha Kljestan in the second half, allowing Kljestan to score the Americans' first goal and give the U.S. priceless momentum.
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But Adu deservedly went into referee Michael Hester's book in the 78th minute for a dangerous, studs-up kick that caught Dutch goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer in the head as he tried to claim a ball at the top of his penalty area. That it came with the U.S. already leading 2-1 made Adu's effort unnecessary, and now he is forced to sit.
"It's a horrible feeling for me, knowing that I have to watch a game that we have to either get a tie or a win to really give ourselves a chance to go through," Adu said. "That's football. It happens. You just gotta accept it ... But I'm not holding anything back. I'm not going to play tentative because I've got a yellow card."
To be fair, Nigeria is in the same boat, with defenders Onyekachi Apam and Olubayo Adefemi also set to sit out. But it can be argued that Bradley and Adu mean more to their team than the Apam and Adefemi do to theirs, especially given Adu's importance to the U.S. attack.
Afterward, head coach Peter Nowak refused to address how he expected to compensate for the loss of each player, but with Adu now rendered to spectator status, he had already slipped into cheerleading mode.
"I have faith in my guys," said Adu. "I think we're going to get the job done."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.