Jan 8, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Michael Bradley may be coming back to Major League Soccer. Even if he doesn’t — if he has some kind of last minute change of course that undermines all the news we’ve heard on Wednesday — just take a moment to consider what’s going on. This is a U.S. international that’s in the undisputed prime of his career – one that has played at the top-level in England, Germany, and Italy. He is fighting for time right now, but he’s fighting for time for the second place team in the Italian Serie A. And despite all of this — despite his earning potential, his stature at a big Italian club, and a World Cup on the horizon — Michael Bradley might be coming back to Major League Soccer.
What is happening with this league? Just five years ago, this circuit was struggling for international relevance ahead of a World Cup that would see only six Major League Soccer players feature in South Africa. The four MLS players Bob Bradley picked for the U.S. squad represented the lowest total since MLS came into existence in 1996. The question of whether the U.S.’s top talent should be playing domestically or in Europe seemed to be resolved (in Europe’s favor), while the league was still struggling to come to grips with the need to fit in the Beckhams and Henrys of the world in financially constrained business model.
Fast forward to 2014, and we have a league willing to pay Tottenham Hotspur $9 million to get Clint Dempsey to Seattle. We see Seattle (and other sources) willing to guarantee the U.S. captain $8 million per year to play in Major League Soccer, with another, younger, even better American set to follow. Add in the commitments to players like Beckham, Henry, Robbie Keane, and Tim Cahill (and nearly every team using the Designated Player rule), and you have a league that looks nothing like it’s pre-South Africa self. Either MLS is spending itself into the ground (unlikely, given the still modest sums going to total payroll) or a new, more financially viable era of Major League Soccer has produced a makeover.
Five years ago, there were serious questions about MLS’s direction. The league had recovered from its post-Florida contraction doldrums, had expanded into places like Salt Lake, Toronto, and Los Angeles, yet before the Pacific Northwest expansion, there were still major questions as to whether the league was capturing hearts and minds. Why those questions still remain, they’ve taken a different form post-Beckham: where market’s like Seattle’s, Portland’s, and Kansas City’s (re-branded) are generating new excitement; where the league is pushing on to a 24-team format that would have sounded foolish a decade ago. Now the question isn’t whether the league is growing. It’s how the league can grow responsibly.
Even more than Clint Dempsey’s move to Seattle, Michael Bradley’s potential switch to Toronto give us reason to appreciate that progress. Bradley is four years younger than Dempsey and isn’t being lured by a situation like Seattle’s. He’s willing to forgo four, maybe six more years in Europe to come back to a relatively struggling team, and while he’ll certainly be handsomely compensated to do so, there are still a number of factors here that force us to reconsider MLS’s new drawing power. Like the Dempsey deal, there’s no way something like this happens four or five years ago.
So as all this Michael Bradley news unfolds (and at this point, it sounds like an inevitability) , it might be worth suspending disbelief and considering the progress. Why is a 26-year-old returning to MLS? Why is he passing on Europe to come back home? Why is he choosing Toronto, and (for that matter) why is Toronto making such a huge commitment to him?
There are good answers to all of these questions, answers that we’ll dive into as news of Bradley’s arrival starts to be confirmed. For now, however, it’s worth putting those curiosities aside for a moment of reelection. Whether the move gets finalized or not, Major League Soccer’s now in a place where a $10 million transfer and $8 million salary can happen under the right circumstances. That those circumstances are even possible is a huge testament to the league’s upward trajectory.
Jul 6, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT
The U.S. women are World Cup champions for the third time thanks to a full team effort that belied its star-first reputation.
Jul 6, 2015, 8:23 AM EDT
CONCACAF lawyer Sam Gandhi’s tone hits all the right conciliatory notes, something that FIFA has been unable to do it in its response under Sepp Blatter.
Jul 6, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT
Despite the love heaped on Clyne and Ryan Bertrand last season, Alderweireld was perhaps only second to Jose Fonte in the Saints’ defensive performance pecking order.
Jul 6, 2015, 6:24 AM EDT
McIlroy looks highly unlikely to be teeing it up at St. Andrews in 10 days time.
Jul 6, 2015, 3:06 AM EDT
The U.S. women always said they would peak at the right moment, and they did exactly that.
Jul 6, 2015, 2:41 AM EDT
Japan came out shockingly flat in the World Cup final, conceding four goals in 16 minutes.
Jul 6, 2015, 1:54 AM EDT
Carli Lloyd said she wanted to be the best in the world. On Sunday, she proved it.
Jul 6, 2015, 1:19 AM EDT
Final: Portland 1-0 San Jose
Jul 6, 2015, 12:31 AM EDT
Take a look at the aftermath of the United States’ World Cup win over Japan.
Jul 6, 2015, 12:03 AM EDT
Abby Wambach longed for a World Cup title for over a decade. On Sunday, she finally lifted the trophy.
Jul 5, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Former Manchester United midfielder Nani is prepared for a fresh start in Turkey.
Jul 5, 2015, 9:29 PM EDT
Check out who came away with the WWC awards.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:51 PM EDT
Carli Lloyd’s hat trick and the United States’ win smashed just about every record in a huge win over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:02 PM EDT
Wow. Just wow.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Watch Lloyd score three times, as U.S. raced into a 4-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Inter Milan released a statement defending itself as Fiorentina vice president Paolo Panerai criticized his rival in the midst of Mohamed Salah’s transfer situation.
Jul 5, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Watch the Women’s World Cup final live online. Kickoff at 7 p.m. ET.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
After having his contract terminated for violence with match security, Emir Spahic will play for Hamburger SV next season.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
Despite Sergio Ramos’ transfer being heavily linked to Manchester United, rival Andres Iniesta believes the defender is going nowhere.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The Indian Super League continues to bring in the big names.
- CONCACAF lays out reform plan post-scandal: “People are right to be skeptical” 0
- Carli Lloyd proves she’s the Women’s World Cup hero she always knew she would be 1
- Mission accomplished: Abby Wambach gets her World Cup title 0
- United States wins third Women’s World Cup title, beats Japan on record-smashing day 22
- VIDEO: Lloyd seals amazing 16 minute hat trick with wonder goal from halfway 2
- Sunday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Manchester City ready to spend, Spurs agree for Alderweireld 0