SAO PAULO, Brazil - This was supposed to be Michael Bradley's World Cup.
The 26-year-old was going to be the engine that spearheaded the Americans' quest to reach the Round of 16 and perhaps beyond. He still can accomplish that, but after two matches, Brazil 2014 has been anything but his Cup of tea.
"Very cruel game sometimes," Bradley said after Sunday's frustrating 2-2 draw with Portugal.
In the United States' 2-1 win over Ghana, Bradley played well below the high standards he has set for himself and the great expectations from fans and media. He did not control the ball as much as expected.
Bradley's game improved considerably on Sunday, but like it or not, he will be remembered for a pair of plays that changed the course of the Group G match. He failed to score on a point-blank attempt in the 55th minute, when Portugal defender Ricardo Costa blocked his shot to make the save. With the U.S. clinging to a 2-1 lead in the final minute of stoppage time, Portugal's Varela stripped Bradley of the ball at midfield and started the scoring sequence that led to his equalizing goal only seconds later.
"The ball popped up, and I was able to make a few quick steps and get there," Bradley said. "It was tight and unfortunately I wasn't able to make a good enough play to keep it for us or get a foul. At that point the ball turns over and it's up to us to deal with the situation.
"I put my heart and soul into every game, every time I step on the field. There are certainly no regrets in my book."
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann wouldn't criticize his star midfielder, at least not publicly.
"Michael is undoubtedly one of our key players and I think he showed that tonight," he said after the game. "He has an engine that is unbelievable. He's covering up for other players all over the place. His vision and his passing is just outstanding. It's not going to be a perfect game all the time. I'm not expecting perfect games from anybody."
It's funny how a World Cup can work out. Bradley can put the past two games behind him with a scintillating performance against Germany on Thursday, especially if the Americans advance to the knockout round.
"I'm absolutely sure that Michael will grow big-time in this tournament," Klinsmann said. "There's no better stage to do it than in the next game against Germany. Every game you play now is getting bigger so that's when you want to see those things coming through."
So it still can be Bradley's World Cup, as long as he gets his act together.