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Where Michael Bradley’s transfer ranks among all-time MLS signings

Jan 9, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

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There will never be another David Beckham, in so many different ways. So it will always and forever be difficult to displace the man, truly a global soccer icon for almost two decades now, as Major League Soccer’s most significant and influential signing.

No one transcends soccer and pop culture like “Becks.”

But don’t let that diminish the value of Michael Bradley’s arrival in Toronto. This looks like the third biggest signing over 19 years in MLS.

Clint Dempsey’s arrival into MLS last August was huge for the league symbolically, although in different ways than Beckham’s glamorous and ballyhooed entrance.

Bradley’s arrival falls just a little south of Dempsey’s – but not far underneath it.

It’s big for the league for all the reason’s Dempsey’s was: here is a player from one of Europe’s money leagues (Italy’s Serie A), handing back his card-carrying status as an American who had made an imprint in one of the world’s wow-wow associations. It says so much about MLS as a destination for players still at their career peak, still in their prime earning years.

No, Bradley has not a consistent starter for Roma this year. But if you look at his body of work over two seasons with the current Serie A second place side, it’s impossible to deny that it’s been anything but a success in Italy. So his desire to play in Major League Soccer – making the full circle, back to where the 19-year-old version launched a professional career for the New York MetroStars – says great things about the league.

(MORE: Michael Bradley’s Italian-based agent says deal to MLS now complete)

Dempsey’s return to MLS was a real watershed, although it could possibly have been viewed as something of a one-off fluke. Bradley’s return takes “one-off fluke” off the table.

And make no mistake, Bradley is every bit the talent that Dempsey is. More, in fact.

Dempsey occupies the sexier position, a goal scorer, whereas Bradley is midfield passer and organizer extraordinaire. But in terms of overall talent Bradley stands above. I have said for two years that no player (no, not Dempsey and not goalkeeper Tim Howard) is more important to the United States national team. Bradley is the team’s midfield brain, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s team performs sluggish, with a distinct wheeze, without him.

He’ll do great for Toronto. He’s already done great things for the league as, probably, the third most significant signing in 19 years.

  1. mdac1012 - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Steve, where do you rank the Henry signing? Becks is clearly number 1, like you said, transcends sports, his signing was world news. As of now though, in terms of impact and name recognition in the sport worldwide, I would think Keane and Henry have to be ahead of Dempsey.

    Henry is the best player, career wise, that MLS has ever had. Keane is a perennial MVP candidate and has won MLS Cups. And both are better players for their careers than Duece.The Dempsey signing was big news here because he is American but was a blurb overseas.

    • danielofthedale - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      But the Dempsey and Bradley are much bigger in the US than Keane and I would than Henry ( and I a did hard Arsenal fan). The league needs all press it can get here at home and Duce and Bradley are bigger moves here.

    • mlsconvert88888 - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      I think you hit on the criteria that (I’m thinking) Steve used to put Dempsey and Bradley above Henry, and that’s what the signings meant to Americans. It’s true that Henry has probably had the best career of any player in MLS, but Dempsey and Bradley, as American stars, will hopefully do more to drive away the apathy a lot of Americans have for the domestic league, and thus help raise it to new heights.

    • Steve Davis - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:14 PM

      Don’t get me wrong; Keane and Henry were significant signings. But we’ve seen foreign players of their caliber before, going all the way back to Donadoni and Valderrama, in fact. Dempsey and Bradley were significant different reasons, in my opinion.

      • wfjackson3 - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:40 PM

        You think Valderrama, a great player in his own right, is on the same plane as Henry? And I honestly had no idea who Donadoni was until you mentioned him.

        I don’t think it’s fair to compare those two players to Henry. Henry was twice nominated for FotY and played in the Champions League final. Did the other two reach those heights?

  2. geojock - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    1.Beckham-Changed the league
    2.Dempsey-The absolute shock was even bigger that Becks
    3.Bradley-Big shock value, but the Dempsey move showed us anything is possible
    4.Henry-Didn’t have a ton of shock value b/c he fit the mold of an older player. Has since proved he has plenty in the tank.

  3. reedineagan - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:38 PM

    I understand your reasoning and respect your opinion, but for me, the Bradley signing is second behind Beckham. My biggest reason being Bradley is much younger, and I have to believe he had more options than Dempsey.

    • jdfsquared - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:17 PM

      Whether Bradley or Duece are #2 or #3 is interesting, if abstract. What it means to me as an American soccer and MLS fan, is that Dempsey was a break thru while Bradley represents a trend. Both are exciting, and you can’t have one without the other.

      (Although you might argue that Keane was the real break thru on this level, given the view that he was still in his prime when he signed.)

      The prospect of all these high profile US Internationals going head-to-head in MLS league matches leading up to (and after) Brazil is just awesome.

    • mikeevergreen - Jan 20, 2014 at 4:31 PM

      I think there was some anti-Americanism going on in Italy. Not to mention, it was rumored since Bradley came to Roma that Daniele De Rossi was very unhappy that Bradley was brought in. Roma has US owners, but they weren’t looked upon very well for bringing Bradley in. I don’t think Bradley had as many options as people think, at least not in Italy. Hannover 96 might have been the better place in Europe for him, given that he’d been in the Bundesliga previously, and that Steve Cherundolo is the captain at 96.

  4. gregalthoff - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    It’s exciting and all, but I long for the day that an American rips it up at an EPL top four club (sorry, GK doesn’t count).

  5. bear06 - Jan 10, 2014 at 1:54 AM

    Or a top four club in Spain, Germany, Italy or France. Jones has played for Schalke who has been almost a consistent top four Champions League club in Germany, and while his performances has been good he didn’t exactly rip the league up.

    • bear06 - Jan 10, 2014 at 1:56 AM

      *Almost a consistent top four Champions League club in Germany for the last few years.

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