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SJU’s Bradley attends MLS Player Combine

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Rich Bradley slouched on the bench with his head resting on his hand, his eyes fixed on the field and just a few steps from the heart of professional soccer. The butterflies fluttered inside, but the former St. John’s midfielder never felt closer to a dream.

“Of course I’m nervous,” said Bradley, one of 50 college standouts invited to last weekend’s MLS Player Combine at the Sunrise Hilton Sports Complex in Fort Lauderdale.

“But I’m having fun,” he said. “That’s what this is all about. Just like playing at St. John’s, you can’t get caught up in the crowd or who’s watching you. It’s about keeping focused, not making mistakes and just playing your game.”

After a brief — yet strong — showing, it’s still unclear whether Bradley, the lone Red Storm player at the camp, will be taken in the MLS SuperDraft Friday in Kansas City, Mo.

The need for a centerback, Bradley’s position, isn’t great and the chances of clinging on in the MLS will be hard. Many coaches suggest Bradley’s best shot is in the A-League, which is a step below the MLS.

“He’s shown that he has the good physical attributes to play in this league,” MetroStars coach Bob Bradley said. “I’ve seen him play during the season and he’s picked up good habits. He brings to the table a great number of things and that’s just a product of playing at St. John’s.”

“He’s a good, solid player,” Colorado Rapids coach Tim Hankinson said. “Though we’re not looking for a centerback, I think he has plenty of potential at this level. Personally, he’s the type of player I like. He’s able to do so many small things. He does the quiet things that make a difference in games.”

Rich Bradley believes he could be late draft choice.

“I don’t see why not,” Bradley said. “I wouldn’t be here if I thought I wouldn’t be drafted. These coaches are looking for players that don’t make mistakes. I’d like to believe I haven’t made mistakes and done well.”

The weekend showcase was Bradley’s first time on a soccer field since the Red Storm fell to Creighton in the NCAA third round last month. The senior, who was upstate for Christmas when he found out about his invitation, was surprised to a part of the elite group.

With the exception of some nerves, the rough individual play didn’t affect Bradley, who played the second half in each of the three exhibitions. He was most impressive in the second game, taking charge in the back and making several key stops.

“It was a tough turnaround since I haven’t played for so long,” Bradley said. “I just wanted to play my game.”

Bradley moved from defender to midfielder following an injury-plagued 2001 and didn’t miss a beat, tying for second on the Red Storm with four goals — including game-winners against Connecticut and Virginia Tech — and seven assists.

“It’s hard not to think about what’s at stake here,” Bradley said. “To be at this point, especially after I’ve played a position — center midfield — that I wasn’t familiar with, makes me feel proud. I never thought I be here. Now I like to think about what’s next for me.”

Reach contributing writer Arthur V. Claps at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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