Michael Bradley‘s possible move to Toronto FC from Roma, a blockbuster development first reported by ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman on Wednesday, is terrific for MLS. The league would gain the U.S. national team’s most important player — make no mistake: it’s Bradley, not Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Tim Howard — in the prime of his career in the build-up to a World Cup. By cutting short a European adventure, Bradley further bolsters MLS’s credibility at home.
It’s an unbelievable coup for the Toronto organization, which on Monday will introduce English striker Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur as part of an expensive effort to rebuild star power and fortify supporters’ loyalty after a series of clumsy decisions and years of abysmal results.
It’s good for Bradley on a personal level: He is going to make enough money to fill Toronto Harbor and will move closer to his Jersey haunt with his wife and young son after eight years abroad. (Everyone figured Bradley’s father, not Bradley himself, would find employment back in the States this winter. Instead, Bob Bradley passed up an MLS offer and moved from the Egyptian national team’s coaching job to Norwegian side Stabaek.)
It’s good for American soccer in general: The unofficial captain of the national team is the working-class hero who grew up before our eyes and made it all the way to an elite Serie A club. He stands as a symbol of success for players who don’t score goals like Dempsey and Jozy Altidore or prevent them like Howard.
We would be remiss, though, without asking whether this switch would be beneficial to Bradley the player. He is to join the most dysfunctional operation this side of Chivas USA. Impossibly, in a league that sends more than half of the teams to postseason, Toronto has never qualified. The club has run through coaches, management figures and notable signings like Lionel Messi slaloming past Elche. The reception from fans each season has grown as chilly as the winter breeze off Lake Ontario.
Bradley would play for Ryan Nelsen, who retired as a decorated Premier League defender just a year ago and endured rough seas in his first season as a head coach on any level. Bradley is Nelsen’s type of player — unbreakable, emotional, inspiring. With his will power and command, Bradley probably could have prevented many of the scenarios that led to 15 late conceded goals last season.
But is the novice Nelsen up to the task of forging a cohesive unit and making the right tactical decisions? And would Bradley have the freedom to operate box-to-box, or would he have to compensate for Toronto’s brittle backline?
And then there is the issue of Bradley’s form for the national team. His minutes are melting away at Roma, which is in the process of upgrading the midfield at the American’s expense. Juergen Klinsmann has pounded home the importance of regular playing time on the club scene before Brazil. It’s why Brek Shea, on the Brazilian bubble, has gone on loan from Stoke City to a second-division club in England. No minutes, no Manaus. Rest assured, Bradley would get minutes at TFC. Bradley may get every minute at TFC, except when he’s on Klinsi duty.
But those minutes would come in a middling league. Despite considerable strides over the past decade, MLS is no Serie A. The Canadian Championship is not Coppa Italia. CONCACAF’s Champions League is UEFA’s Champions League in name only. Minutes, nonetheless.
Leaving the continent and its footballing riches will not undo all that Bradley has accomplished.
And if he misses the charms of the Eternal City, well, Toronto’s Little Italy is a swell substitute. College Street West awaits. Benvenuto, Michael?