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Something forgotten in the Michael Bradley destination debate; every one of these conversations is different

Jan 13, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT

Toronto FC Introduce Jermain Defoe Getty Images

So many of these conversations on Michael Bradley and his move into MLS get one element very, very wrong:

This conversation about U.S. players’ career destinations, about what’s best for the individual, cannot possibly be covered with one big Yankee Doodle blanket. Every players’ situation is different – in many cases wildly so.

Just in terms of what it does to enlarge these guys’ soccer brains and to improve the technical quality of their soccer feet, these are essentially different conversations. What’s good for Brek Shea may not best for Jozy Altidore, which may not be best for DaMarcus Beasley, which may not be best for Clint Dempsey or for Bradley.

Even when we get past the “do they or don’t they need to go overseas?” we then have a completely different conversation ahead about the landing zone of choice. Because, again, what’s best for This Guy won’t always be best for That Guy.

To the point here, in Bradley’s case: I wouldn’t worry. He’s fine making an MLS return at age 26.

Unlike some of the lesser experienced Americans, Bradley has plenty of stamps on his passport, all kinds of “been there, done that” on his resume. He crossed the Atlantic for his first European contract almost eight years ago. Eight years is an entire career for some people!

Jurgen Klinsmann essentially has two reasons for wanting young MLS men to go try soccer life overseas. One is to push themselves in a more competitive environment, to fight for their place in the depth chart against the most competition possible. That pressure extracts the best from them, the way pressure extracts the most flavor from coffee beans.

But he also says these players will benefit by seeing soccer in a different culture, where the embittered, local baker will not sell you bread on a Monday after a loss. Along with that, Klinsmann wants the payers working under a variety of training methods, expanding their soccer brain through different coaching philosophies and playing style, etc.

Welp, Bradley has certainly checked all those boxes, hasn’t he?

Bradley has a highly diversified soccer CV – and now he brings all that knowledge back into MLS. It’s not knowledge he is likely to leave back in Europe; he’ll pack it up and bring it to North America.

(MORE: U.S. Soccer fans critical of Michael Bradley’s move to MLS: get over yourselves!)

You think Bradley is going to forget the rigid, organizational defensive structure of Italian soccer? You think he’s going to forget how tough, mentally and physically, you must be to survive the sharp elbows of the Bundesliga? You think he’s going to forget the training in the Dutch Eredivisie, the importance of a highly technical skill base?

No. And no. And no!

Last point here: Michael Bradley is a smart, smart fellow. His life is mostly all about soccer.

If he adjudges that this move is the best thing for the right balance of life concerns (family, wife, etc., as we talked about earlier) and soccer concerns, you can bet that he’s given it a long, hard think. And odds are, he’s gotten it right, because he is a smart fellow who knows how to work his way around an issue in an organized, thoughtful way.

Believe it, Bradley is not going suddenly become a terrible soccer player. His skills and speed of thought will not fall off the table. I promise that.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that he will benefit, soccer-wise, in the short term for this move. Read more about that a little later today at ProSoccerTalk …

(MORE: Where Bradley’s signing falls in all-time MLS significance)

(MORE: What Toronto’s starting lineup might look like with Defoe, Bradley)

(MORE: Why Bradley is worth the money for Toronto FC)

  1. willking9 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:56 PM

    I don’t blame any American players like Bradley or Dempsey for taking the financial security and being able to live with their families in the continent/country they grew up in. However, the fact of the matter is that American soccer will never gain respect on an international level if our best players are unable to consistently compete in the top leagues in Europe.

    • jkennedy1129 - Jan 13, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      America’s best players have absolutely been able to consistently compete in Europe. I’m not sure how some people are getting the idea that Bradley and Dempsey leaving Europe is an embarrassment to American soccer players by somehow showing that we can’t cut it over there. Dempsey scored 60 goals in the Premier League, and Bradley became one of the better central midfielders in Serie A before leaving AS Roma.

    • Sgc - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:02 AM

      “However, the fact of the matter is that American soccer will never gain respect on an international level if our best players are unable to consistently compete in the top leagues in Europe.”

      There are two huge problems with this statement (other than the use of the word “fact”–predictions about the future can’t be facts, especially if they include the word ‘never’, but comparatively that’s a nitpick).

      1 Why is this a goal? It isn’t a goal for players, or MLS, or the US National Team. Especially the last two. They aren’t looking to ask anyone for anything, they are looking to take it, and they all could give a crap whether they get the type of ‘respect’ you’re talking about for it or not. This is business, and by business we mean war.
      2 Anyone who chases this sort of emo validation as a goal is never going to get it, because no one respects a beggar.

  2. mdac1012 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    It took me a while to come around on this point, but I agree that like Dempsey, Bradley is at a point in his career where who he plays against isn’t as important as how much he plays. In a perfect world for Bradley and Dempsey, they would get regular playing time in Italy and England against the best players in the world. But, especially in a WC year, regular playing time in MLS is more beneficial to their playing form than being subs and spot starters in Europe.

    One thing Dempsey and now Bradley coming back to MLS may also do for American players is that in the past when an American player came back to MLS it was usually perceived he did so because he failed in Europe (McBride being an exception). Dempsey and Bradley have made it OK to come back to MLS not because you have to but because you want to. And that helps the league immensely.

    • Steve Davis - Jan 13, 2014 at 6:02 PM

      Exactly. And again, if we’re talking about Omar Gonzalez, the arguments are turned completely on their heads

  3. el timo - Jan 14, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Michael Bradley will manage in Europe one day, if he chooses. And I don’t mean Norway. Coming in as field general to a rebuilding TFC, helping take them from (near) worst to first, will be a good start.

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