GLENDALE, Ariz. - Michael Bradley insisted there was "no disappointment whatsoever" at not being named captain for United States' 3-0 win over Panama on Sunday.
Bradley earned his 143rd cap in the match, giving him more international appearances than the rest of the gameday roster combined. But Gregg Berhalter, making his debut as U.S. manager, opted to give the captain's armband to defender Aaron Long instead, a player who earned just his third cap.
"Whether am the captain, I'm not the captain, I wear the armband, I don't wear the armband, these things aren't important," he said after the match. "It's about the team, it's about having a group of guys who understand what it's like to all be in something together. It's about having as many guys as possible who are able to look around and pay attention to their teammates, to think outside themselves, to make sure that they're able to play well and take care of their own performance and find the right ways to challenge others. I'll always do that."
Berhalter said that he made sure to talk to Bradley about the decision.
"I was in a similar situation one time [as a player] and no one spoke to me," Berhalter said. "I said to Michael -- I was very clear with him -- 'You would look at this roster and you'd be the logical choice for captain. But we're not going with you, we're going with Aaron, and here's why we're going with Aaron. I just wanted to communicate that to you.' I told him that he'll still be a leader when he's on the field by his performance. The armband is maybe just authority, but you can lead through your actions, and Michael has certainly done that."
The result represented something of a payoff for the players, who have been in camp since Jan. 7. They were the aggressors for much of the match against an inexperienced Panama side containing just two World Cup players.
The U.S. jumped on top in the 40th minute when Djordje Mihailovic -- one of five U.S. debutants -- fired home from Corey Baird's cross. Nick Lima's tackle and pinpoint delivery enabled Walker Zimmerman to head home in the 80th minute. Substitute Christian Ramirez scored on a tap-in eight minutes later after good work on the left wing from another to come off the bench, Jonathan Lewis.
Berhalter was quick to point out that Sunday's match was just a beginning, and that there was plenty of room for improvement.
"When I addressed the group after the game, I said it was a good baseline," he said. "It gave us enough content to work with. Some of the movements we were working with on the wings are very complicated movements, it involves three players interchanging, and still with the intention of disorganizing their defense and getting behind the lines. You could see it. Sometimes we were a bit tentative with that, and there were other times when it came off and it was really nice."