The news that AS Roma and USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley is signing with MLS club Toronto FC will certainly come with mixed feelings for US fans. Yes, like fellow USMNT star Clint Dempsey, Bradley is coming home just before a World Cup. This is exciting for a couple reasons.
First, the recent movement to Major League Soccer by the top Americans instills a kind of pseudo-patriotism. Those who loathe seeing our best players travel overseas to find better competition are seeing a reversal of this recently. We can begin to convince ourselves that the MLS can hang with the top international leagues. Currently, this is in no way true, but certainly this move will only improve the popularity and perception of the MLS. Casual American soccer fans will now be able to turn on the TV and witness some of their nation’s biggest names performing on their own soil.
Second, with the World Cup beginning in June, Bradley will be playing close to home starting in March, instead of into May over in Italy. Even though Dempsey is on loan with Fulham and Donovan made an attempt to do the same with Everton, many of the top Americans are choosing to play with MLS sides in the run-up to the World Cup. This will get fans following their national team stars domestically right before the Cup.
I’ve been extremely positive so far about Bradley’s decision, but there are plenty of clear downsides. The quickest one that comes to mind is the severe drop in level of play. Bradley will go from battling teams like Juventus and Napoli for one of Europe’s top league crowns to going up against the New York Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire. That’s not even mentioning the lesser players he will be playing alongside. This is really a shame, as most consider the 26-year-old Bradley to be USA’s best player.
Unfortunately, the truth is he was having issues breaking into the starting lineup with Roma. He was injured for a spell at the beginning of the season, but in 18 games, he has only pulled 5 starts. Additionally, Roma had just brought in Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan on loan – another talent for Bradley to fight for time against.
So, are our players having trouble hacking it overseas or has the MLS just become a more attractive destination? Recent reports have Toronto FC on the verge of announcing another big signing on Monday – Jermain Defoe. The 31-year-old Tottenham forward is yet another huge pickup for Major League Soccer. This is a solid English Premier League talent moving to America’s league while he still has a few top-notch years left. Playing time appears to be the deciding factor in Defoe’s case as well. Robert Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor have been more favored and it seems like Defoe sees a beneficial opportunity in Toronto. Bradley and him will certainly make for a formidable duo.
As a fan of the US National Team, it is difficult to see Bradley head back to his homeland now that he can’t get playing time with a European club. He would stay in better form if he would remain overseas and make the move to a middle (or even low) level Premier League club or somewhere similar. However, the money Toronto can afford to give him certainly played a factor as well. I mean, I get it: Why make way less cash to struggle with a middling EPL squad, when you can dominate the MLS and pull in serious dollars?
Still, I find myself coming up against some serious ambivalence concerning the move. While I understand Bradley’s decision, I still don’t think I’m going to enjoy seeing our best player kick it around with lesser competition when he could be going up against the top teams in Europe. At the same time, I do wish for the MLS to grow and progress and this signing will surely do that. It’s just tough to see MLS success coming at the expense of our best players’ pre-World Cup form.