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What if new TFC man Michael Bradley had remained at Roma?

Jan 13, 2014, 8:08 PM EDT

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The reflexive attitude in so many corners seems to be that Bradley’s soccer skills and acumen will suffer for his move in Major League Soccer. But is that really the case?

It’s an important question since Bradley is, beyond question, the most important man in the U.S. mix as World Cup 2014 in Brazil creeps ever closer. (If you don’t agree, then you haven’t paid attention to the United States team without and without its top midfield passer and organizer — and “top” by a long, long way.)

There’s a reasonable argument that his move out of Roma and into MLS is the best possible thing for Bradley in the short term – and therefore the best possible thing for the United States national team ahead of its big summer trip into Brazil.

There is no question that Roma and Serie A represent a higher level than Major League Soccer. That’s not a knock on MLS, just a fact.

But that doesn’t matter much if Bradley is barely playing at the Stadio Olimpico. And he isn’t. The U.S. midfielder had five starts in the fall for second place Roma. What’s more, the prospect for increased playing time for Rudi Garcia’s club were getting worse, not better.

Roughly speaking, Garcia had four midfielders for his three spots in the team’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. Bradley was clearly Garcia’s fourth option. That’s not a terrible spot to be in … if someone gets hurt or even if the team hits a bad run of form. But things were all healthy and happy for Garcia’s galloping club.

And then …

The Serie A club went and got Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan on loan from Cagliari. So all of the sudden Bradley was looking at a role of fifth man in a three-man rotation. Yuk.

Not to mention the confidence blow attached to Roma’s new acquisition from Belgium (with the option to buy, by the way).

All of you that wanted to see Bradley remain at Roma … how would that help the U.S. national team escape its date with the Group of Death? To have Bradley languishing on the bench at the Stadio Olimpico … let’s not pretend try to put a good spin on that one, eh?

To be sharp, Bradley is better off playing, not sitting – even if it’s in a league of lesser quality. At Toronto, he’ll not only be an automatic selection, he’s expected to be a leader, the “keyest” of key men around BMO Field. For a $10 million transfer price, that’s certainly a reasonable expectation, and it’s yet another step in Bradley’s ongoing development.

Beginning in mid-March, Bradley will feature weekly for Toronto FC. And depending on when Jurgen Klinsmann gathers the U.S. group for pre-World Cup camp, Bradley might even sneak in a big match or two in the Amway Canadian Cup.

Toronto faces Vancouver in an important two-leg semifinal series: the first leg is May 7 in Toronto, with the return leg set for a week later in Vancouver. Maybe that’s not a biggie in your mind, but for the long-suffering faithful around Exhibition Place, it is a big deal. (Not to mention the spot in CONCACAF Champions League on the line.)

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

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

(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. overtherepermanently - Jan 13, 2014 at 10:49 PM

    I’m not a detractor of the Toronto move, though I would have loved to see him at Genoa, who were mooted to be in the game late (he gave me a reason to care about Serie A), but everything I’ve seen indicated Roma only went in for Nainggolan because Bradley was discontent with his role off the bench.

    • mikeevergreen - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:47 PM

      Genoa it would have to be because if he went back to Chievo, he would be going to relegation fodder. Toronto is the place for him. Especially with the Amway Championship, which could get him into the CCL.

  2. mvktr2 - Jan 14, 2014 at 5:54 AM

    There’s good and bad to Bradley staying in Roma/Europe and I don’t really care much one way or the other. However Steve I think you’re making a false argument. His choices weren’t just Roma/TFC, the choices were Roma, Genoa (2-3 other Seriea A & other euro league clubs), or MLS.

  3. konmtu - Jan 14, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    Some people are slamming Bradley for leaving Roma claiming his skills will erode. What about the other aspect of it, though? What if Bradley being in MLS raises the level of others. By being in the MLS as a top player, younger players get to see a superb midfield general run his team much more readily than if he were to keep playing at Roma which is clearly Totti’s team, anyway. Serie A doesn’t get near the amount of exposure that MLS does in the US. Even if Roma were to make the UCL, there’s little guarantee that they are featured on television for young Bradley fans to see. So the long term impact of Bradley coming back may be felt in the future generations that got to see him play at TFC.

  4. arabomep - Jan 14, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    I love the move. This isn’t gonna stop guys from going overseas; it shows that if you can cut it in Europe and want to come back (at a young age!) there’s great potential to be bigger in America than just another number in England, Germany, Italy and so on.

    At the same time, Bradley’s youth shows the up-and-comers that MLS is good enough to house great Americans. I hold my breath because of the seismic shifts a new TV deal/CBA/expansion club(s) brings, but it’s gonna get really expensive, real soon.

    • mikeevergreen - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      What it may do is set the younger crowd to go over earlier (21-22 yrs old), and coming back to a bigger paycheck around 27-28, when they still have 5 good years left.

  5. midtec2005 - Jan 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    I know the name of one man who will be really glad Bradley made this move…

    Jermain Defoe. Now he knows he’ll get service.

    • mikeevergreen - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      Jermaine’s going to get more service than he knows how to handle. Come to think of it, Jermaine talk was being downplayed until Michael Bradley’s name was mentioned. Maybe Defoe insisted the TFC get a big-time passer as part of his deal?

  6. chadmoon1 - Jan 14, 2014 at 4:07 PM

    All of those that hate the move are assuming that the Italian league is better than MLS. I agree with you for the first 6-8 teams, but after that? I think many MLS teams are comperable to the rest of the Serie A. I believe that the best team in MLS would be around mid-table in Italy.

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