Skip to content

Michael Bradley-to-Toronto: Take a moment to suspend your whys, consider how far MLS has come

Jan 8, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

Michael Bradley AP

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.

[UPDATE: Report: Bradley to Toronto done, set to earn $6.5 million per season after $7-$10 million transfer fee]

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.

[MORE: Defoe to Toronto FC official… and maybe Michael Bradley, too? (or “How Taylor Twellman broke Twitter”)]

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.

source: AP

Even more than Clint Dempsey’s acquisition by the Seattle Sounders, Michael bradley’s potential returns represents progress from Major League Soccer. (Photo: AP.)

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Arsene Wenger hails his team’s attitude, Sanogo and the path forward

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:30 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-ARSENAL-ANDERLECHT-TRAINING Getty Images

    Wenger was in good spirits following his side’s victory that put an end to his two-match losing skid.

  2. Ross Barkley Divegate: Why Martinez defends him and what it means

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:50 PM EST

    Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Yes, Barkley dove and yes, (news flash) Martinez is overly protective of his players.

  3. Cesc Fabregas claims he’s playing the best football of his life

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:32 PM EST

    Let's talk about Cesc... Getty Images

    “I feel that right now I am playing some of the best football of my career,” Fabregas said.

  4. Emile Heskey offers himself to Leicester City to help scoring woes

    Nov 26, 2014, 7:38 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-DISCRIMINATION-HESKEY-SIN

    “It goes without saying, I’d love to come,” Heskey told BBC Radio Leicester.

  5. Franck Ribery lashes out at “politics” behind the Ballon d’Or

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:44 PM EST

    gareth_bale_franck_ribery AP

    Poor Franck. All fired up and not even on the 23-man shortlist.

  6. Despite their struggles, Liverpool’s season intact as spirit shines through

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:00 PM EST

    Can Liverpool build off this draw in Sofia? Their manager Brendan Rodgers has cause for optimism.

  7. Champions League roundup: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid through, tense elsewhere

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:21 PM EST

    All the action from the penultimate games in Groups A-D, as two teams booked their spot in the last 16.

  8. Paul Mitchell named Tottenham’s new head of recruitment

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:19 PM EST

    Paul Mitchell

    The raid on Southampton continues, as their recruiting guru heads to Spurs.

  9. Arsenal 2-0 Dortmund: Sanogo and Sanchez send the Gunners through to the Knockout Stage

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:43 PM EST

    Arsenal FC v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    It was an upbeat display from the Gunners, who move on to the Champions League knockout stage.

  10. Ludogorets 2-2 Liverpool: Late equalizer spells more misery for Reds, but there’s hope

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:42 PM EST

    Reds cough up late goal, but can still advance to the last 16 of the UCL with a win over Basel in their final group game.

  11. VIDEO: Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo scores 71st Champions League goal

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:10 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-BASEL-REAL FBL-EUR-C1-BASEL-REAL

    Watch Ronaldo go level with Raul as he puts some pressure on Messi.

  12. At The Half – Arsenal 1-0 Dortmund: Sanogo’s strike the difference

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:41 PM EST

    Arsenal FC v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League

    Good start for the Arsenal, scoring early through Yaya Sanogo.

  13. Pochettino wants more rest between European and Premier League matches

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:10 PM EST

    Tottenham Hotspur FC Training and Press Conference Getty Images

    As Tottenham continue to struggle, Mauricio Pochettino believes his team needs more rest between competitions.

  14. Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 Benfica: Danny strike eliminates Portuguese champs

    Nov 26, 2014, 2:27 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-ZENIT-BENFICA Getty Images

    The Zenit skipper earned three points for the home side as Benfica’s Champions League dreams ended in St. Petersburg.

  15. LIVE – Champions League: Arsenal host Dortmund, Liverpool face Ludogorets

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Follow all the action from the UCL’s eight games on Wednesday, right here.

  16. Liverpool legend says Simon Mignolet is ‘worse than Dracula’

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:13 PM EST

    Norwich City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Former Reds’ goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had some choice words for the struggling Simon Mignolet as Liverpool’s tumultuous season continues.

  17. Arjen Robben: Bayern were ‘brutally punished’ by City

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:29 PM EST

    Manchester City FC v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    The Bayern star was outshone by Sergio Aguero’s hat trick in Munich’s 3-2 loss to Manchester City.

  18. Victor Moses out up to eight weeks with injury

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST

    Stoke City v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Stoke City will be without their on-loan winger as the Nigerian international is sidelined with a thigh injury.

Featured video

PST Extra: Top 4 showdowns on Sunday