Published On: Fri, Jan 10th, 2014

Michael Bradley Acquisition a Triumph for Toronto FC

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Michael-BradleyMichael Bradley is a unique talent in U.S. soccer.

His is a style of play forged in Chicago, Florida and New York, and hardened through stints in Holland, Germany and England. He stands upon the grass of Rome an American gladiator, a rock in midfield with an eye for a well-placed pass.

For his country, he has been a static fixture in a line up often tinkered with by Jürgen Klinsmann. With club, in Roma, Bradley once reigned supreme, battling Serie A teams alongside Daniele De Rossi, a dynamic pair of battlers if ever there was one. Yet Bradley, inexplicably and with little cause, fell down the depth chart in Rome.

The recent acquisition of Radja Nainggolan pushed him down deeper into the bench, and with a World Cup right around the corner, that simply won’t do. The United States face brutal competition in the form of Ghana, Germany and Portugal – those games will not be easily won, if at all. For Bradley, a bench role would simply not do.

Which brings us to the chilly shores of Lake Ontario, Canada’s self-processed “centre-of-the-universe,” Toronto, with Tim Leiweke’s Toronto FC side. The man who brought David Beckham to Major League Soccer has taken over a struggling Toronto FC side and flipped it on its head.

Toronto FC, you’ll remember, has been in Italian headlines for its pursuit of Alberto Gilardino, a deal that ran parallel to negotiations with English forward Jermain Defoe. It took a few months and Leiweke ultimately chose Defoe, while Gilardino remains in Italy.

The arch-rivals to Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta’s Montreal Impact, Toronto FC completely reshaped their roster and management staff. The hiring Ryan Nelsen as head coach served as notice of a new regime. Defoe was target number one through and through.

Ledesma Bradley Lazio RomaThen, out of nowhere, Bradley fell on Toronto’s lap. League rules dictate that a team can only have three expensive players; a league-wide salary cap prevents dynasties from being formed, but three “Designated Players” forego the cap in all but a $350,000 hit against it. It’s the rule that allowed the New York Red Bulls to sign Thierry Henry, for the LA Galaxy to sign Robbie Keane, and once brought Torsten Frings to, well, Toronto.

Bradley, as of the time of this writing, cannot actually sign with Toronto FC. However, Roma has already announced that Bradley has been sold to MLS to the tune of $10 million. This offseason alone, Toronto added Defoe and another forward, the Brazilian Gilberto from Portuguesa, which leaves an Argentine central midfielder, Matias Laba, the odd man out.

It seems that as one midfielder enters, the other will exit; Bradley’s imminent TFC move could push the highly-talented Argentine out the door, a real shame in any other circumstance – these aren’t any other circumstances, though.

Bradley is a talent unseen in Toronto and in Major League Soccer, one matching the league’s latest U.S. international acquisition, Clint Dempsey. He signals the return of the American international to a league that has historically fed them to European sides. Fans of the U.S. aren’t happy; fans in Toronto are stunned.

Roma visited Toronto in the middle of the 2013 season for a friendly. The city’s large Italian population packed the 21,000-capacity BMO Field, Francesco Totti’s name emblazoned upon the backs of their burgundy shirts. Yet the real stand out on the day was Bradley, instantly recognizable with his shiny, bald head and his talented feet. He was a class above the entire Toronto FC midfield; adding talent like that to the club is unprecedented.

At 26 years old, Bradley is entering the prime of his career. Money will surely be a motivator but it’s also a measure of growth. Landon Donovan, the captain of the national team, praised the signing, saying it’s a testament to how far the league has come, and was pleased that the league has embraced U.S. internationals.

But Toronto is not in the United States; this is a Canadian outfit through and through. On a day marked by the acquisition of Dwayne De Rosario, Canada’s finest player, the club also signed a youngster from its academy system named Jordan Hamilton. This is a team dedicated to the development of Canadian players.

Bradley won’t care, nor will Nelsen or Toronto FC’s supporters. This is a team desperate for success. The figures behind this move are staggering, in the tens of millions if not nine figures. Defoe gives the team a goal scorer, a game winner through and through, but Bradley takes a struggling side and makes them an MLS Cup threat.

Roma’s loss will be forgotten in a few years’ time, but Toronto’s gain could turn the franchise around entirely. Ironic, then, that Bradley will receive the warmest welcome in one of the coldest cities in North America.

In the last few months, Toronto has been covered in ice: Bradley is the fire that melts it all away.

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  1. Ben says:

    Good piece, though I think Bradley’s inexplicable fall down the depth chart had a lot to do with a certain Kevin Strootman’s arrival. Bradley is a very tidy and industrious player who can certainly do a job at Roma, but I think his true level would probably be somewhere between Chievo, where he was a stand out player, and Roma, who have legitimate Champions league aspirations. I’m sure there would have been a number of clubs around Europe in the europa league bracket who would have loved to have him. Whether they would have paid the $10mil is another question and given that it’s a world cup year, it makes sense in a way for Bradley to return to MLS to get guaranteed playing time. And a significant salary bump can’t hurt.

  2. Tom says:

    Bradley is a serviceable midfielder, but let’s not overestimate his worth. Strootman & Nainggolan are both two way players capable of holding & creating. Take into account that Roma has one of the top 5 midfield players in the world as a fixture in their side & saying things like Bradley inexplicably fell down the pecking order is little more than pandering to the bone headed mass audience.
    Bradley is a star in the MLS. He’s a one dimensional player for a mid-table club in any major European league.

  3. Len Georgiou says:

    Excellent article! This reflects the rejuvenated passion that will return again by @TORONTOFC fans! BMW field will become once again the most difficult and most intimidating pitch in MLS for visiting teams! Many knock Bradley…. The guy is truly amazing and the best well rounded player in MLS now! He’ll earn this status no doubt!

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