The 2014 FIFA World Cup is officially underway, and the home-cooking has already begun, which is great news for Brazil, but doesn't bode particularly well for the other 31 nations competing for the Cup ... including the United States.
As you've probably heard by now, the U.S. isn't exactly the favorite in this tournament, but don't tell that to the 23 men who make up our national team. They've come to Brazil prepared to shock the world, and with single-minded stalwarts like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley at the helm, sometimes you forget just how long the odds against this squad really are.
Today, Rolling Stone wraps up a week of U.S. player profiles by speaking with Bradley, the son of our former national-team coach who has established himself as a leader both on the pitch and off. Most seem to think he's our best player, not to mention our best hope in 2014, a talent driven by a desire to win that he learned from his father. Not surprisingly, there's only one thing on his mind as the Americans get ready for their first game of this World Cup. And, no, it's not hitting the clubs.
You were born in New Jersey. Does that mean you're a Springsteen fan?
Well, I'm one of those guys who likes a little bit of everything; but my favorite is Bruce. I grew up with him and my dad is a big Springsteen fan, so he definitely passed that on. I've been to a bunch of his shows – the first time I went to see Springsteen I was probably 8 years old. What's great about him is that you absolutely take inspiration from the way he steps on the stage every single night, and leaves his heart on the stage at the end of every single show. As an athlete who tries to compete and give everything and pass on that same kind of passion, it's kind of cool.
What's your favorite Springsteen song?
Oh, you're putting me on the spot right now. 'Thunder Road' is a classic. And, um ... man, I got too many to talk about as favorites; I feel like I'm not doing them justice.
You lived in Chicago, too, so where do your pizza loyalties lie?
I'm a big pizza guy; not, like, crap delivery pizza, but good pizza, like pizza in New York or New Jersey. I've got a few spots I love, depending on where in New Jersey or New York I am. And, you know, when I was in Chicago, I got to the point where I could enjoy [Chicago deep-dish pizza], but anybody who tries to say that it compares to real pizza in New York or New Jersey doesn't know what they're talking about.
When you were playing in Italy, the press dubbed you "Il Generale," which is a great nickname. Can anyone on the U.S. team match that?
To be honest, I have no idea how that nickname started, but it's taken on a life of its own. As far as other guys on the team who have good nicknames, Brad Guzan, he's known as the Polar Bear, for a lot of different reasons. That's one of my favorites.
You're one of the leaders of this team, and one of the U.S.'s most recognizable players. Do you feel any additional pressure going into this World Cup?
I'm trying to take a big role in every way, on the field and off the field, and try to be someone who can be counted on to come through in the biggest moments. We're lucky to have a core group of guys who have been through a lot together, been on the field on a lot of good days and a lot of bad days, and can use that experience to provide leadership. It's important as you get older and have more experience to not always worry about yourself, but to understand the mood of the group, and to know when there's a younger player who needs some encouragement or a little bit of help. In the way that I play and the way that I act, I try to be a guy who can be counted on to come up big.
How is the team preparing for its first game against Ghana?
You come into a big tournament like this, and everybody starts with zero points, and everybody goes into their first game with the same idea. And we're no different. We're trying to make sure that, come Monday, we're as sharp and as fit and as mentally ready as we've ever been to play a really good game and come away with 1 or 3 points.
But regardless of how the game goes, as soon as it ends, it will be important for us to have the ability to regroup and recover, mentally and physically, and get ready for games 2 and 3. You're not qualifying for the Round of 16 after the first game, and you're not going home after the first game either. So, as much as everybody wants to start well, it's still important to make sure that the commitment and mentality is there to continue on.
Is there any chance you'll allow yourself to actually enjoy the experience of being at the World Cup?
You get to this point and everything's exciting. It's exciting when you get back to the hotel after training and there's games on, it's exciting when after dinner, at night, they're showing highlights. We're excited for our game, obviously, but in general, we can't wait to get the games going.
So does that mean you'll be hitting the clubs in São Paulo?
Nah, I'm not a club guy at all.
You don't strike us as a "club guy."
Hopefully, nobody will be going out to the clubs.
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