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.
Mar 12, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Bit of a surprise for Barca, as Cesc Fabregas makes his way into the lineup for Pedro.
Mar 12, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
The suspension is the same length as the one received by Liverpool attacker Luis Suarez for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:41 PM EDT
Beasley signed a new deal at Puebla this summer, but what good is a contract if it isn’t getting fulfilled?
Mar 12, 2014, 1:17 PM EDT
There’s a big weekend headed our way in the Premier League, with four traditional giants squaring off with plenty on the line in terms of table standing and bragging rights.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
PST’s caught exclusively with Ralph Krueger, as the former NHL coach takes up the lead role at Premier League side Southampton:
Loic Remy wants Champions League club, says rape allegations kept him from bigger club than Newcastle
Mar 12, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
“That case cooled down a lot of clubs and I was lucky to come to Newcastle, a very great club that I thank,” Remy said.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Wambach’s goal total now stands at 167 for her country.
Mar 12, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
Gregarious ex-player mourned across US soccer after passing away from cancer early Wednesday.
Russian politicians want US kicked out of World Cup because US politicians want Russia kicked out of World Cup
Mar 12, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
I’m sure Blatter is going to spend loads of time with the letters sent to him by US and Russian lawmakers.
Mar 12, 2014, 10:04 AM EDT
It’s hard to imagine another player at United seizing the captaincy, but how about England?
Mar 12, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
“The biggest way you can tell that right off the bat is training,” Parkhurst said.
Wambach scores twice as US women end disappointing Algarve Cup with win over North Korea, 7th place finish
Mar 12, 2014, 8:53 AM EDT
With the victory, the U.S. avoided going winless in four consecutive games for the first time since 2001.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
PST’s own Joe Prince-Wright is slated for an exclusive interview with Krueger later this morning, so keep it tuned here.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT
“If you lose, don’t start complaining about silly things,” Robben said.
Mar 12, 2014, 7:28 AM EDT
Champions League injury forced German midfielder off at halftime, will have Ozil out of lineup.
Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City stumble into Champions League second leg; PSG set to rest Ibrahimovic
Mar 12, 2014, 6:09 AM EDT
Barcelona carry a two-goal lead into Wednesday’s visit from City, while PSG’s four-goal edge has Laurent Blanc set to rest his stars.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
A 95th minute goal from Alan Gordon gives San Jose momentum ahead of next week’s second leg.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
Last year’s MLS Cup qualifiers start the season 1-2 in our rankings.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Gunners prospect could soon be locked into an international career with Germany.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Champions League was Milan’s last battle. Now, two months of auditions for next year’s team begin, with Seedorf decide who will return for the Rossoneri’s restart.
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