The Toronto FC midfielder continues to put his work ethic on display after playing every minute of the U.S. national team's run in Brazil.WASHINGTON — Michael Bradley just keeps on racking up the mileage.
Off the field, this summer has seen him spend more than 60 hours on airplanes taking him from coast to coast stateside and all over the Brazilian map. On the field, the midfielder has continuously offered his box-to-box presence for club and country.
Bradley began July by playing 120 minutes as the U.S. national team was eliminated from the World Cup with a second-round loss to Belgium. He ends it having brought that work ethic back to Toronto FC, starting five of six matches since his return.
"That's what he gets paid to do. It's a job," said Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen. "We don't have the luxuries of having two-week holidays and all that kind of stuff, and Michael's handling it really well. He's doing great."
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Between the U.S. team and Toronto, Bradley has started 12 games in a nine-week span since the pre-World Cup camp ended in late May, going the distance in all but one of those contests. He even led all players in distance covered during the World Cup group stage.
With TFC dealt three midweek matches in July, few would have blamed Nelsen or Bradley if squad rotation had given the player more regular rest.
But Bradley was in the starting lineup for Toronto just four days after the Americans' elimination. While he did get the next match off, he's been a constant presence in the 11 since then despite the busy slate.
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A recent slump, however, could derail Bradley's MLS ambitions. In eight matches since the World Cup break ended, TFC has just one victory. A 3-0 loss at D.C. United on Wednesday was the Reds' fourth straight game without a win.
Even though Toronto (7-7-5) is tied for third in the Eastern Conference, it's just one point from falling out of the playoff slots.
"It's [about] being a little more committed, making sure that defensively we're that much harder to play against and that much more difficult to beat," Bradley said. "In these moments, you need the personality and the character to come out. It's the only way you come out of moments like this together."
Sporting disheveled facial hair and a sizeable scar on top of his shaved head — the product of an early-season collision with United's Davy Arnaud — Bradley is taking on the look of a grizzled veteran. Although he only turned 27 years old Thursday, the New Jersey native is already in his 12th professional season.
Bradley's class on the ball is readily apparent, and his workrate can't be questioned. He will distribute from a deep-lying role one moment, then make a goal-crashing run the next.
As Toronto newcomer Warren Creavalle quickly realized, "He does give a big presence on the field. He's constantly moving in on the ball. Playing with that guy, he's good."
Yet there's still a sense that Toronto has not seen the best Bradley has to offer. Considering he missed six games because of World Cup obligations, a certain lack of cohesion is understandable. Having Jonathan Osorio, Kyle Bekker and Collen Warner rotate as his central midfield partner hasn't helped the chemistry.
"The thing about him is he needs to play off his teammates more as well," Nelsen said. "It doesn't happen over  games he's played with the guys, so the more that he plays the better he'll become."
The good news for Bradley and TFC is that the club is only at the season's halfway point. With the wear and tear of the World Cup in the past, Bradley can now focus on truly becoming the star Toronto expected when it signed him to a $6 million base salary.
"It's important that now we find a way to mentally stay strong," Bradley said. "To find the right way to challenge ourselves and look hard at ourselves but still know there are a lot of games left."
Nineteen matches, to be precise — and maybe some playoff games too. Keep the odometer rolling.