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 EDT

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. Cahill, Davis, Gonçalves among big fitness questions going into MLS weekend

    Apr 24, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    Brad Davis 3

    Hernan Bernardello and Kelyn Rowe also among the big potential absences from this weekend’s action.

  2. Weekend off gives Toronto a chance to get Michael Bradley right

    Apr 24, 2014, 7:34 PM EDT

    DefoeBradley AP

    Michael Bradley’s sidelined for a week with a “nerve issue” in his foot. He and Jermain Defoe are expected to be ready for TFC’s next game on May 3.

  3. European power, U.S. enclave Tyresö FF continues playing out its sad soccer parable

    Apr 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    tyreso_ff

    Tyreso is Leeds. It’s Anzhi, it’s Málaga. And it has a chance to win a European title before potentially closing its doors.

  4. Scolari reveals eight players on Brazil’s World Cup roster, praises Neymar

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

    FBL-WC2014-FRIENDLY-BRA-RUS

    After praising Neymar, Scolari inadvertently lets some of the names on his final roster slip:

  5. VIDEO: PST Extra – What next for Manchester United?

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT

    Manchester United Training Session and Press Conference Getty Images

    The PST Extra lads break down United’s options, as the Red Devils prepare for life after Moyes:

  6. Home teams take leads in first legs of Europa League semifinals

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT

    benfica_juventus AP

    A late goal from Benfica gave the Portuguese champions a win over Juventus, while Sevilla impressed at home against Valencia.

  7. Barcelona’s Victor Valdes admits hatred at being a ‘keeper in new book

    Apr 24, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT

    Victor Valdes

    Valdes on his hatred of being a ‘keeper plus top tips to succeed:

  8. Cristiano Ronaldo makes TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people list

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:58 PM EDT

    cristiano_ronaldo AP

    Real Madrid star takes what’s become an obligatory spot for soccer on the list.

  9. Premier League Power Rankings: Two way tussle for top spot – Week 35

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT

    Liverpool launched themselves ahead, as their midfielders flew out of the traps. AP

    With the final few weeks of the season upon us, nothing is settled at the top or the bottom:

  10. Premier League Scenarios: Title Chase, Race for Europe and Relegation

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT

    Norwich City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    This is your Matchweek 35 primer to all the scenarios in the title chase, European qualification and relegation.

  11. Report: Mix Diskerud targeted by New York City FC

    Apr 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    South Korea v United States Getty Images

    Assuming a deal could be worked out, Diskerud’s fluid style of play would fit nicely within the attacking philosophy of Jason Kreis.

  12. ‘The Chosen One’ banner of David Moyes taken down by Manchester United

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT

    The Chosen One Getty Images

    Now with Moyes out and Ryan Giggs in as interim manager, the banner has been removed from Old Trafford.

  13. Manchester United have two transfer deals provisionally in place – Cavani, Shaw, Fabregas all on radar

    Apr 24, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT

    Southampton v Newcastle United - Premier League Getty Images

    This is all the calm before the storm that will be Manchester United’s summer of 2014.

  14. #tbt: Louis van Gaal explodes on live television in 2009

    Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT

    France v Netherlands - International Friendly Getty Images

    If van Gaal is appointed United boss, Jose Mourinho will have some competition for best post-match sound in the 2014/15 Premier League.

  15. Chelsea approves Jose Mourinho’s desire to play ‘B Squad’ against Liverpool

    Apr 24, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

    Spain Soccer Champions League AP

    For Chelsea, the Liverpool match represents, well, a headache, apparently.

  16. WATCH: Spain’s official World Cup anthem may be the worst music video you’ve ever seen

    Apr 24, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT

    Credit: Daniel Ernst Credit: Daniel Ernst

    So bad you have to see it. That’s the only was to describe Spain’s official World Cup anthem.

  17. David Moyes tipped by Roberto Martinez to make swift return to management

    Apr 24, 2014, 8:08 AM EDT

    File photo of Manchester United's manager David Moyes listening to a question during a news conference in Manchester Reuters

    Where, exactly, Moyes’ future lies next is a topic of some debate.

  18. Cruz Azul defeats Toluca, claims record sixth CONCACAF crown

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:36 AM EDT

    cruz_azul Getty Images

    Mariano Pavone’s first half goal in Toluca delivered La Maquina a record-breaking title.

  19. Hat trick from Wright-Phillips gives New York two wins in a row

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT

    bradley_wright_philllips AP

    The Red Bulls’ slow start is quickly becoming a distant memory as New York posted a 4-0 win over visiting Houston.

  20. NWSL Digest: Feeling the Spirit as we move past Week 2

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

    NWSL logo

    A future star makes a quick impact as Washington puts week one behind them.

Featured video

PST Extra: What next for Man United?