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.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT
A trio of players have been charged in a match-fixing ring involving 17 first-division matches in the Austrian Bundesliga since 2004.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Everton takes on Manchester United this weekend as the American shot-stopper hopes to save their Champions League dreams.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT
The German manager says when he was brought in the players were afraid of his reputation, but that fear has long since dissipated.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:38 PM EDT
Stoke City are on a tear, but they have yet to truly figure things out away from the Britannia. Can Cardiff City capitalize on the Potters’ shaky away form for a second straight surprising result?
Apr 18, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
Whether this new corruption allegation implicates Ricardo Teixeira with regards to the Qatar World Cup bid or his ties to Barcelona, it’s more bad news for the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT
With the World Cup still over two years away, Tab Ramos is beginning preparation with North American-based players.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
Jose Mourinho has guided Chelsea to an astonishing nine straight clean sheets at Stamford Bridge. Can the bottom-dwelling Black Cats pull off an unforseeable upset?
Apr 18, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Following in the footsteps of Samir Nasri’s comments last month, Manchester City’s Ivorian believes being from Africa is preventing him from reaching the game’s individual pinnacles.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:23 PM EDT
With Chicago the draw specialists early on, can they beat New England on Saturday? Watch live on NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET:
Apr 18, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
With the game played in Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, the local law enforcement decided to have some fun…at Marc Bartra’s expense.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 35:
Apr 18, 2014, 1:57 PM EDT
Three Chelsea legends to sign on the dotted line?
Apr 18, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Can van Basten get the best out of Johannsson?
Apr 18, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
U.S. national team head coach speaks out on Altidore, USMNT squad, American Outlaws and more:
Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Spurs and Fulham set for derby scrap, with both team desperate for three points:
Apr 18, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT
Rooney and Fellaini fit to face their old team, as United aim to scupper Everton’s top four:
Apr 18, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
Hammers’ youngster loses battle against cancer:
Apr 18, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
Six nominees for PFA Player and Young Player of the Year award announced:
Apr 18, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT
Beckerman and Bradley; the perfect midfield combination for the USMNT?
Apr 17, 2014, 11:33 PM EDT
MLS’s nine-match Saturday kicks off Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, with Chicago hosting New England on NBCSN.
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