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

Jan 13, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

Defoe, Bradley

Let’s say a friend comes to you today; he has a huge career choice ahead. He wants to bounce some thoughts off you. But honestly, you don’t even need to hear the details, do you? The bottom line, you’d say:

“Do what’s best for you and your family, what’s best in the long run for you and the people who love you.”

That’s where it’s going to end, right? If you’re a good friend, it is. That’s the advice that comes from every reasonable mouth, right?

Every man and woman has the right in our great land to make choices that benefits themselves and their family – not necessarily the choice that benefits the kingdom or the corporation or whatever, right?

Except this: when it comes to U.S. Soccer players making that critical choices of where to earn their pay, here or in the glorious “over there,” these soccer heroes of ours have somehow forfeited that right. That’s what plenty of aggrieved U.S. fans seem to believe, that these men have signed some secret deal with the devil, one that says they must do what’s best for the longing U.S. Soccer fandom.

And that’s so wrong.

Somehow, plenty of soccer fans in this country don’t believe that basic human right – again, and say it out loud, the right to simply do what is best in their lives – somehow doesn’t extend to this country’s talented, highly skilled soccer luminaries.  In that case, so many U.S. fans want the Michael Bradleys, the Clint Dempseys the Landon Donovans, etc., to make decisions best for us, not them, what’s best for the U.S. soccer-loving public.

(MORE: On U.S. player destination debates, all these conversations are different)

Too many soccer supporters here are falling over backward in selfish, sour-faced consternation over Bradley’s choice to leave the good, sweet, pristine air of European soccer for the allegedly grimy, polluted air of Major League Soccer.

Oh, the villainy!

But why shouldn’t he? If this is what Bradley wants to do, why hasn’t he earned that right? It’s the same argument I made with Dempsey and Donovan (for a bunch of years in Donovan’s case.)

(MORE: Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe unveiled at Toronto FCU.S. Soccer fans )

In some cases, it might not be the best thing for the player’s development. It may not be the choice that manages to squeeze the very most juice from this orange; the player may only gain 90-95 percent of full potential. Well, so what? Isn’t that the individual’s choice?

Because I’ve got news for you: fully accessing e every last store of soccer talent is a big part of these guys’ lives … but it’s not their entire lives, now is it? Don’t they have a right to think about their kids’ ability to be close to their grandparents, about where they want to live, about overall quality of life?

Soccer considerations are a big part of these decisions, but they aren’t always 100 percent of the equation. Because somewhere around age 31, 32 or 33, they’ll be looking for one last contract … and then they’ll be done earning a paycheck for playing soccer.

Here’s the bottom line on all this:

We must reframe these discussions. (About where the talented U.S. players earn their keep, that is.) And perhaps we need to reshape these conversations radically. Too many U.S. soccer fans continue to look to these guys for validation of where the game stands in our own country.

Too many continue to want talented, influential players like Bradley to validate the game they love in the country they love. And while I understand the complicated background and origins of the sentiment, it’s wrong.

source: Getty ImagesIt’s not Michael Bradley’s responsibility to make you feel better about the quality of soccer in your beloved land.  Period. If you think soccer here, Major League Soccer and the larger game, isn’t where you want it to be, that’s your right. But that’s not Michael Bradley’s problem.

(Honestly, the game here is fine, steadily progressing in so many areas, just as it has been for years and years, no matter what the soccer snobs may say, or what the last vestiges of old-white-guy fear of societal change may tell you about the game’s popularity here. But that’s a different conversation.)

To put it another way, United States soccer fans need to confront their insecurities – and in a lot of cases, they need to get over themselves.

Beyond the man’s right to make the choice that’s best for his life

I do get that a lot of people in the maddened crowd have trouble with Bradley’s choice because they fear the deterioration of his ability and its potentially negative impact on national team this summer in Brazil. They badly want the team (and the player, of course) to be the best they can possibly be. I get it. It’s about passion for sports and for your team.

I’ll address why you shouldn’t worry so much about that part in the next post at ProSoccerTalk, in about an hour …

(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. walkoff3 - Jan 13, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    It’s hard to fault someone for taking the opportunity to earn $5 mil a year and a much more significant role compared to around $800K and bench role. That said, what’s the saying about perception becoming reality? I can’t shake the perception that American players can’t cut it in Europe’s top leagues right now. How much progress has the US really made if these teams are disinterested in our best players? And what happens if the US falmes out in Brazil? How far would that set the US back ?

    • thetomi - Jan 13, 2014 at 4:29 PM

      At first I couldn’t shake this view either. Then I heard about the MLS’s new TV contract and how much Toronto payed for Bradley, plus I saw that there was a $15mil bid for him from someone in Europe, and I start to change my view. I think this is about MLS building a base to improve play on the field and make the product a better sell for TV.

  2. flangeslammer - Jan 13, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    Maybe use more exclamation points next article to really drive your points home, steve.

    I can be happy for Michael Bradley’s family now that they are set for life (if the 6.5 / yr number is actual – if it’s closer to 1-1.5 then that raises more questions). It doesn’t help me in any way to be happy for one of my favorite players financial situations. Do you get joy out of such things? Who cares how much a player makes unless strictly discussing the ramifications of the deal onto a league?

    I simply enjoyed watching Bradley apply himself with Roma. It’s a terrific league to watch (not just “fine” as you so eloquently surmise the MLS is doing competitively) and to see an American reach those highs is a joy. Not much more to it. Bradley has no obligation to anyone other than himself and his family. Is it a bummer to me that I will not be able to watch him push and challenge himself in the top leagues, coming into his physical prime, striving to compete in the Champions league as he himself has previously gushed over in the years not so long ago? Yes. It’s a bummer. nothing more than that. No exclamations required.

  3. dfstell - Jan 13, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    Really good article Steve. It’s really hard to argue with people doing what is best for themselves. These athletes are all weighing the options and mostly picking what pays the best and what offers the best situation for their families.

    You could extend this logic to that other whipping boy of US soccer: College Soccer!

    We all know what the limitations of college soccer are and it’s fun to rail against the “system”, but when it comes down to it, the “system” is comprised of thousands of young men making what they think is the best decision for their future. How do you tell 18 year olds that it’s wrong to go to college?

  4. nextmanup81 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    As soccer fans, we view these decisions through the lens of what the impact will be on our National Team primarily. That’s what fans do, in all sports – they view sport from the angle of how things affect the teams they root for. In many fans’ case, it doesn’t have anything to do with people not wanting Bradley to do what’s best for his family. We can be happy for him and his family, but fans don’t look at these decisions from the vantage point of taking care of ones family, the team we root for matters most to us. You should know that by now.

  5. mss16 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    You can’t say he’s coming home, unless I’m wrong and Bradley is actually Canadian. It is still a different country right? Ok. Sports are not the real world so please don’t make that comparison. No one should be telling him what’s right for he and his family. If he did it for the $ that is what it is. However, US soccer fan’s do have an interest in how this affects the team now and in the future and as fans have the right to comment on it. For the US to truly progress as a footballing nation the way we all want it to, we need our best players to do what players from South and Central America, Africa and Asia have been doing for years – going to Europe and fighting like hell for a place in the team. That is how you progress as a player and as a nation. Maybe it’s unfair to say this about Bradley, maybe he doesn’t have the stomach to fight for it like we all hoped he did. But moving from the majors back to Triple A is the direction most people only go when they are forced to. I hope we can find someone soon who has what it takes from a technical and mental standpoint to stick it out and succeed in Europe. We won’t move forward until that happens.

    • talgrath - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      Except, you have it backwards. The top national teams in the world, almost without exception, draw their talent from the domestic league in the majority. Look at Germany and Spain, arguably the top two teams in the world right now and easily in the top 5, almost all of their players come from Bundesliga and La Liga respectively. The teams that are in the middle, they have players going overseas a lot, they have a domestic league that’s just okay. Sure, the very best in Brazil (for example) play overseas where the money is greatest, but overall the majority of the team play in Brazil’s top tier. For the US to improve, we have to make the domestic league better, not ship our talent overseas; better talent in MLS means a better USMNT.

      • lyleoross - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        My perception is this is incorrect. It seems to me that only the European leagues do this. You mention Brazil, but pretty much all of South America, Africa, Asia, and North and Central America do this. It’s about money, not about keeping the top talent at home. Even the Netherlands, a powerhouse if ever there was one, doesn’t do this. They can’t afford to keep their top players at home.

        What that then means is that the top clubs in Europe build the most competitive environments. If you want to develop, you go where the best environment is. Simple enough. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary, but that has been the traditional model in all sports.

    • mlsconvert88888 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:57 PM

      So soccer in America wont move forward unless our best players leave our shores and never come back until their career is over? I’m not completely discrediting what you’re saying but there seems to be some cognitive dissonance there.

    • nogoodusernames - Jan 13, 2014 at 11:18 PM

      Yes, players from South and Central America, Africa and Asia have been going to Europe for years to fight for a place in a team, but they’re not actually doing it to for the idyllic reasons of just make themselves better players or helping their national teams, they’re doing it to make money. I don’t deny that all players are competitive, and part of wanting to improve themselves is just for the sake of being better, but the biggest reason they want to improve is so that they can make more money. This is their job, how they put food on the table, and playing careers are obviously much shorter than most other careers, so for those with no other job skills of note the need to make as much as you can is even greater than for people in other professions. If players could make as much money staying in their home countries as they could make in Europe, they’d stay. Europe is the best place to play because it has the most money, but if 20+ billionaires decided to take over MLS, and the league started paying the highest salaries in the world, MLS would become the top league in the world over night, no doubt about it, and the same would happen if those billionaires instead went to Australia, Japan, Panama, Iceland, etc.

  6. talgrath - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    The bottom line is this, Bradley moving to MLS shows that MLS is improving, the more MLS improves the more US talent pool improves. A stronger US talent pool means a stronger USMNT since the majority of players in MLS are American, if MLS weakens then that means the USMNT weakens too. In the short term, maybe Bradley’s move means that he’s not quite as skilled and experience, but in the long term this is better for the USMNT, as our top talent stays in MLS they will play more with each other and attract more attention (and money) to the league. The more our national team players play with each other, side by side, the more they have a chance to synchronize and work together and in a game like soccer that is huge.

  7. egb234 - Jan 13, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    I didn’t even need to read this article–I knew I agreed with the crux of it just based on the title. Bradley can and should do what he wants for whatever reason he wants. He has played some long seasons in smaller European leagues before being the lowest paid player on Roma’s roster. He earned a pay day and I am glad he got it.

    My disappointment isn’t personal. I am disappointed with what JK referred to as the harsh reality of the moment–that there isn’t demand for American players in Europe. I think the American game is headed in the right direction, and I think we will eventually have players in demand around the world who choose to play at home because the MLS is a good enough league. I am just bummed because I thought Bradley/Altidore/Dempsey meant that we had palyers in demand who would be given ample opportunity to succeed.

    Disappointment with the situation doesn’t stop me from bein really happy for Bradley.

  8. bob347 - Jan 13, 2014 at 6:32 PM

    I agree with everything you said except, seriously, why does it always have to be the “old white guy’s” fault? I really, really resent that!

    • bob347 - Jan 13, 2014 at 6:37 PM

      I just looked you up, you’re an old white dude. What’s up with that?

  9. player169 - Jan 13, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    I think that once you get to a certain level, you know how good you are and how good others are around you. It is great that Dempsey and Bradley got to a high level with legit power teams. Too bad they were both on the fringe of starting and not starting. Maybe you get to a point where you feel like it’s “a business”, a grind and that if you are on a top team, they are always going to be paying ridiculous $$$ for players to come replace you or relegate you to the bench. Sure, Bradley and Dempsey could have kept playing in those leagues with lessor teams, but at the end of the day…the payday and being able to be one of the best players in a league might be refreshing compared to going back and being a starter on a mid-level team that has no chance of getting silverware.

    I guess my point is…maybe we are overlooking what MLS has to offer. Dempsey said that he wanted to have fun again playing and have it not feel like a business. Maybe The equality, salary cap, American fanbase offers a no pressure environment that allows the game to be competitive but also fun again…while getting paid a good salary (in certain cases).

    The more Defoe’s that come over and enjoy the league…the more the MLS will become an attractive option for players.

    Also on the nationality thing Soccernomics brings up a point that soccer goes through phases where players from certain countries (Brazil) are more sought after then players of equal skill from other countries…simply because of the attached stigma of where they are from. I think places like Stoke are figuring out the value of the American player.-

  10. newmanggrrr - Jan 13, 2014 at 10:10 PM

    Great to have America’s top player in MLS. But why oh why did he have to land in CANADA???

  11. lyleoross - Jan 14, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    What an absolutely annoying article. Instead of trying to justify the MB move, you aught to be analyzing it, that is your job. The question that you’ve left unspoken is where does the player develop the most? That is the crux of the argument against the move. Unlike many, I don’t subscribe to the generalist notion that the best players develop in the best environment. We see plenty to counter that view. If if were really true, the Yanks would never have to use the rest of MLB to fill their ranks with superstars. It becomes increasingly clear that you can develop into the best player in the world, no matter where you develop, with the right tools and training. That even includes the MLS. Brazil doesn’t develop the players they do because of their powerhouse teams, the build the best because of what happens day to day on the streets of their cities where the best players grow up with a ball sitting on the top of their bare foot. That happens because of the huge fan base in Brazil. Only by developing the same fan base in the U.S. can we do the same. To make sure we’re clear, Neymar didn’t go to Barc to become in a top player, he went there because he is a top player, and they are willing to pay. Same goes for Messi, and on and on.

    At first, I was against the MB move, and Dempsey’s move, not because the environment in Europe was better, but because I thought it was essential for developing a fan base in the U.S. That bottoms in MLS seats would occur because of fans developing an interest by watching American players overseas on the best teams. At some point I figured that would change and you’d develop more fans by having the players here in the U.S. I have to admit the time may be now.

    If MLS has a solid enough fan base that they feel confident enough to buy JD and MB, at Toronto of all places, then you’ve got enough capital here to build an exciting product. That is good for growth in the U.S. and that is the path to long term world success.

    The reason America doesn’t have the top players in the world right now isn’t because our players aren’t playing in Europe, it’s because we don’t have them living and dying football at the starting level, day in and day out, here in the U.S. You can’t build a world class player with money in a developmental club. You do it playing down in the park every day after school with your friends. That happens when people are watching the sport with their kids, and if bringing Dempsey and Bradley here does that, good on MLS.

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