With Michael Bradley’s official unveiling in Toronto on Monday, many critics were surprised by the transfer of the US International from AS Roma in Italy, to Toronto FC. But from both Bradley’s point of view and US Soccer’s, the move makes a ton of sense.
The transfer fee was reportedly worth about $10 million with Bradley earning around $6.6 million a year. This huge pay raise, (Bradley earned just $1.1 million per year in Italy) along with the news that England international striker Jermaine Defoe had signed just a few days before, shows just how serious Toronto FC is about both rebuilding a team that was third worst in the league last season.
Although Toronto FC was terrible last year, and has been in recent years, it’s MLS and anything can happen. Arguably the most balanced league in the world, MLS teams can make the playoffs one year and drop to the bottom of the league as quickly as next—look at both D.C. United and San Jose this year—and hopefully for the Canadians, vice versa.
Michael Bradley’s options were limited as well. Roma had just signed another center midfielder, which would have seen Bradley drop to fifth choice in the middle of the park for the Italian capital city.
And teams like Sunderland and Fulham in the English Premier League were reportedly interested—but they are two teams fighting for Premier League survival.
Bologna and Chievo Verona were also rumored to be asking about Bradley’s services—but they aren’t faring much better in Italy. So the idea of being a superstar back home in North America, like his international counterparts Donovan and Dempsey, must have been attractive.
For MLS, this is obviously one of the most positive moves in a series of big name acquisitions in the last few years. Looking all the way back to 2007 with the “Beckham Project,” players like Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Marco Di Vaio, Tim Cahill, Obamefi Martins, Kenny Miller, among others, all had options to play elsewhere but chose MLS.
Not to mention, MLS is holding on to the best American talent as well. Players like Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and of course Clint Dempsey, are all expected to play big roles in this summer’s World Cup.
And with the MLS academy system improving exponentially each year and producing MLS first team regulars like DeAndre Yedlin, Luis Gil, and Gyasi Zardes, this can only mean improvement on the international stage, in the not so distant future.
Toronto owner Tim Lieweke was the man who helped bring Beckham to the U.S. back when Lieweke was with the Galaxy—and reports say that Toronto’s latest transfer dealings, under Lieweke, will cost them around $100 million.
This is a sign of the expanding soccer market in North America. Combined with both the home-grown and best American talent, along with the expanding markets that allow MLS clubs to sign international players in their prime, like Defoe and Bradley, MLS has a future destined for big things.
Some critics have spoken out against both Dempsey and Bradley for returning to North America at the peak of their careers, instead suggesting that they test themselves in the world’s strongest leagues to improve the national team. However, the only way to improve the MLS is to find the best talent, and keep it.
Consider this World Cup year a rebuilding period, perhaps—expectations are low for the U.S. as they face the toughest group in the tournament—so anything beyond the group stage would be a miracle.
With that being said, why not take the next four years until the next World Cup to develop the league, the academies, and the US national team, right here at home? What with the new teams coming to the league like Orlando City and NYCFC, the exciting new transfers, expensive media deals, and organizations like both the New York Yankees and David Beckham and his people in Miami, the sky is the limit for both Major League Soccer, and US Soccer as a whole.
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