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Making sense of the “whys” surrounding Michael Bradley’s Toronto move

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It’s happening. There’s no point in denying it or trying to figure out if the morning rumors are true. At this point, Michael Bradley’s introduction at BMO Field is only a matter of time, a move that will leave MLS supporters applauding while Europe-centric fans scratch their heads. Even U.S. Men’s National Team diehards might wonder why one of their team’s best players is ovine from Serie A to MLS six months ahead of a World Cup.

For all of those fans, however, the questions should be the same, inquiries born from the unique nature of this move. Major League Soccer already has a few players of Bradley’s talents, but it’s rare to see a player in his prime (26 years old), playing for a huge club (Roma), in position to qualify for Champions League (second in Italy) forgo that opportunity to return to North America. MLS an option is something that will always be there, the thinking goes. There’s a smaller window where the Michael Bradleys of the world can compete for time in Europe.

[MORE: Report: Bradley to Toronto done, set to earn $6.5 million per season after $7-$10 million transfer fee]

To get our heads around why Bradley’s passing on Europe to return MLS, we have to start unraveling those “whys” we mentioned in our previous post.

Would Bradley leave Serie A to return to MLS? Why is he passing on Europe to move back to North America?

The answer to both these questions is the same. At least, it appears to the same. Bradley was making €800,000 with Roma – just over $1.1 million U.S. For Toronto, he’ll make around $6.5 million.

The Roma figure is post-tax. A big chunk of that Toronto money is going to go to the government(s). But even after you factor in the costs of living in Toronto and taxes to be paid, Michael Bradley will make a lot more money playing Major League Soccer than he would staying in the Serie A. That’s not to change any time soon.

So if not Roma, why not somewhere else in Europe?

True, Bradley probably could have arranged a move elsewhere in Europe, but he was unlikely to move anywhere that could match that salary. For a little money as Major League Soccer pays its players on the whole, the high-end earners make very good money, even by global standards. While you won’t see anybody in North America match the big earners at Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, or Real Madrid, a high-end Designated Player in MLS can justify turning has back on a salary at (for example) Tottenham to move to North America.

source: AP
Over two-plus seasons with Roma, Bradley (left) made 41 Serie A appearances (29 starts) and scored two goals. His eight-plus seasons in Europe saw the 26-year-old spend time in the top divisions of England, Germany, Italy, and Holland. (Photo: AP.)

That’s the bigger issue here – the opportunity cost associated with Bradley’s age. He’s only 26 years old. As opposed to Clint Dempsey (who moved back at 30). Bradley had a whole World Cup cycle’s worth of time left to spend in Europe, and which he could still plan on a reasonably long spell in MLS. While he was missing out on significant time at Roma, there are other clubs that could use his talents. Depending on the league he targeted, some of those clubs could be competing for spots in Champions League.

Bradley, however, isn’t your normal 26-year-old. He moved from Illinois to the Bradenton academy as a 15-year-old and turned professional at 16. For large portion of his life, Bradley’s been jumping around, from Florida to New York, to Holland and Germany, to England and Italy. He and his wife had their first child in Sept. 2012, and the opportunity for stability and financial security may have been too much to pass up.

[MORE: Michael Bradley-to-Toronto: Take a moment to suspend your whys, consider how far MLS has come]

Why move this close to the World Cup, though?

The one wrinkle to that logic is this Brazil 2014. Players are usually loathe to move ahead of the tournament, but Bradley was in the opposite situation. He could use a move that would increase playing time ahead of the World Cup. While U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants players both competing at the highest level and playing through MLS’s break, this could be seen as a net positive for Bradley. Two-plus months of MLS’s regular season may give him more playing time than four-plus months at Roma.

For some players, MLS is always there, but five- or six-year contracts worth $6.5 million per season aren’t. The player’s percentage of a $7-$10 million transfer fee is something most professionals never have a chance to turn down.

Bradley didn’t turn it down. Instead, he used it as a chance to move closer to home.

Why Toronto? Why is Toronto making such a huge commitment to him?

Toronto has 17 wins over the last three years. Over 102 games, that’s one victory every six times the team takes the field. In the league’s busy season, that means TFC’s winning once a month, a track record of recent success that has seen attendances drop at BMO Field. Having never made the playoffs, Toronto’s on the verge of approaching a point of no return, with one of the league’s most promising markets seeing attendance fall by 10 percent over the last two years.

Where some see that as a poor fit for Bradley, a person like Tim Leiweke might see it as a match made in heaven. The former Anschutz Entertainment Group executive (and LA Galaxy architect) is now running the show at Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, meaning the revitalization of the Reds’ brand falls on his shoulders.  The same man who authorized big money to David Beckham and Robbie Keane is splashing the cash to bring Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley to Toronto.

[MORE: Defoe to Toronto FC official… and maybe Michael Bradley, too? (or “How Taylor Twellman broke Twitter”)]

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Bradley has already made 82 appearances with the U.S. Men’s National Team, scoring 11 times while starting for the team at World Cup 2010.

That is the main difference between LA Leiweke and Toronto Tim – that star power. In Los Angeles, Beckham’s acquisition was motivated more by marketing than competitive reasons. In Toronto, Bradley doesn’t carry that star power. What he does have, though, is a skill set that will immediately make him one of the best players in Major League Soccer, and while that alone might not be able to draw Canadians to see the U.S. international, the prospect of wins will.

Toronto fans are smart. They know their soccer, and they know their team – exactly why they’re starting to stay away from BMO Field. In a market that’s longed for a winner ever since Cito Gaston was guiding the Blue Jays to World Series titles, the prospect of an honest-to-goodness competitive team could cut through an active entertainment landscape, galvanizing support in what could again be one of North America’s top sports markets. If Leiweke can build a winner before the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, or Raptors break through, he’ll have justified every dollar spent bringing in his headlining duo.

But for Bradley, why Toronto? Why not some other landing spot in MLS?

As for why Bradley would want to go there, well, there probably wasn’t a line of teams waiting to commit potentially $39 million over the next six years (the high-end of ESPN’s reports on his possible compensation). Given the opportunity to move to one of the best cities in North America, Bradley may have overlooked TFC’s historic struggles, especially given one of the architects of the Galaxy’s success is now on board. And as the son of a coach who has seen success at Chivas USA, Bradley may have a unique view on the nature of success in North America’s parity-obsessed leagues.

17-year-old Donnarumma could leave AC Milan over contract dispute

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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AC Milan has developed a teenage sensation, but they might not be able to keep him.

Young goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma could find himself on the open market this summer after reports that his agent Mino Raiola has balked at AC Milan’s contract offer.

Donnarumma is just 17 years old and has been hailed as the successor to Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping throne, earning the first-place job at one of Europe’s biggest clubs this season. However, according to Italian publication Calcio Mercato, Milan offered Donnarumma just $2.6 million a year, while Raiola is reportedly seeking twice that.

Milan’s caution is understandable given Donnarumma’s extremely youth at a position that usually sees players rise and fall at a later age, but the teenager has already become a sensation in Italy, and Railoa is looking to capitalize on his popularity.

However, it’s not just sensationalism that Raiola is hoping to pounce on. According to Squawka Statistics’ Performance Index, Donnarumma has performed as the second-best goalkeeper in Serie A this season behind Wojciech Szczesny. If AC Milan doesn’t wish to pay its young star, it’s likely that someone out there will – rather handsomely.

Premier League money could be enticing for both the player and his agent who has already made a fortune negotiating big-money deals for the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Mario Balotelli, and plenty others. Manchester City could be after a young goalkeeper to challenge the struggling Claudio Bravo, while the Manchester United sticks could be left vacant if David De Gea ever makes his way to Spain as is annually rumored.

Either way, Donnarumma deserves to be paid, based both on his fantastic performances this season at the San Siro and the subsequent popularity he has gained as the successor to one of the games great goalkeepers.

Europa League: Spurs sent packing, Ajax advances, Gladbach comes back

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and KAA Gent at Wembley Stadium on February 23, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur was sent home in the Europa League Round of 32 after a 2-2 draw with Belgian side Gent at Wembley Stadium, leaving them down 3-2 on aggregate.

Christian Eriksen and Victor Wanyama scored for Spurs, but the road back was too long after Dele Alli was sent off in the 39th minute for a horrible challenge on Brecht Dejaegere that left the referee with no choice but to show the English international the first straight red card of his career.

With Spurs down to 10 men for the majority of the match, they were still able to press forward and pummel the Gent penalty area, but they wasted chances and were open on the counter, and that’s how they struck. With Spurs leading 2-1 and pressing for the third they needed to advance, Jeremy Prebert followed up his goal in the first leg with one in the second, punishing Spurs for throwing men forward to settle things in the 82nd minute.

Elsewhere, Ajax advanced thanks to a goal from Nick Viergever who bagged the only score of either leg in the 49th minute after Legia Warsaw goalkeeper Arkadiusz Malarz spilled an initial shot from Amin Younes. The Dutch side is through to the Round of 16 for the second time in the last three years.

Fiorentina held a 1-0 lead over Borussia Monchengladbach after the first leg, and they scored twice in the first half of the second leg, but the German side shattered that with a remarkable comeback. Finding themselves down 3-0, Gladbach scored four times in 16 minutes to put themselves into the Round of 16 on a 4-3 aggregate score. Lars Stindl was the man of the hour, as he scored a hat-trick, including one from the penalty spot to start the comeback. The incredible stunt was completed by an Andreas Christensen header in the 60th minute, and Gladbach held on from there to advance.

AS Roma eased into the Round of 16 thanks to their huge first-leg advantage, falling 1-0 to Villareal but still advancing 4-1 on aggregate.

Anderlecht clung on to a Round of 16 place in thrilling fashion despite falling 3-1 to Zenit St. Petersburg, moving on thanks to an away goal after a 3-3 aggregate draw. 24-year-old Swede Isaac Kiese Thelin scored in the 90th minute in Russia to give Anderlecht the away goal it needed.

Lyon obliterated Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 7-1 en route to a huge 11-2 aggregate victory. Nabil Fekir scored a hat-trick, while Maxwel Cornet, Sergi Darder, Houssem Aouar, Mouctar Diakhaby all bagged goals as well to put the French club through with ease.

Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia earned a come-from-behind berth in the Round of 16 despite being reduced to 10 men with a half-hour to go. After a 3-2 defeat in Spain, they scored two at home to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 and advance 4-3 on aggregate. Pieros Soteriou and Giannis Gianniotas scored before the hour mark, and while Soteriou was sent off for a second yellow in the 65th minute, Apoel held on for the slim win as Athletic needed two more to advance.

Celta Vigo completed a comeback over Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk. Down 1-0 after the first leg in Spain, Celta hit the road and seemed on its way out until Iago Aspas hit from the penalty spot in injury time, forcing extra time where they scored again via Gustavo Cabral which saw them through.

The Round of 16 draw will be Friday at 7 a.m. ET, while the matches begin on March 9th.

RESULTS(team in bold advances)

Tottenham 2-2 KAA Gent
AS Roma 0-1 Villareal
Fiorentina 2-4 Borussia Monchengladbach
Ajax 1-0 Legia Warsaw
Zenit St. Petersburg 3-1 Anderlecht
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-2 Celta Vigo (AET)
Lyon 7-1 AZ Alkmaar
Osmanlispor 0-3 Olympiakos
Apoel Nicosia 
2-0 Athletic Bilbao
FC Copenhagen 0-0 Ludogorets
Racing Genk 1-0 Astra Giurgiu
Sparta Prague 1-1 FC Rostov
Besiktas 
2-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva

How Twitter reacted to Leicester City firing Claudio Ranieri

SEVILLE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City reacts on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Sevilla FC and Leicester City at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 22, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri was fired by Leicester City on Thursday, just a point above the relegation zone a season removed from one of the most improbable title runs in sports history.

While there’s been noise of the possibility for weeks, the decision still uncorked plenty of emotions from people in England and around the world. Just as the title did less than a year ago, people had strong feelings about Leicester’s choice to remove its best-ever manager.

Some suggested that winning the Premier League is now a tainted award, with the last two managers to win (Mourinho, Ranieri) both fired during the following season. Others expressed rage towards Leicester City for treating a legend of the game so harshly so soon after his incredible accomplishment.

[ MORE: Firing Claudio Ranieri was the correct decision ]

Some still suggested that the decision was correct, and still does not take away from what last season brought the Premier League history books.

See the most notable takes on what remains a controversial move by the Foxes:

Claudio Ranieri dug his own grave at Leicester City

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Christian Fuchs of Leicester City reacts during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Leicester City at the Vitality Stadium on December 13, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri admitted last week that he’s been too loyal to his title-winning players who aren’t performing up to standards this season. He followed that up by handing starting spots to out-of-form Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy, and Wes Morgan in the Champions League loss to Sevilla.

Now Ranieri has been sacked. It’s a sad story, but it’s easy to see why.

Should the eventual replacement truly hope to salvage Leicester City’s Premier League status, he must do what Ranieri failed to, and what he will be better equipped to do: put aside loyalties built from overachieving last season and and sit both Fuchs and Morgan, two critical players from last season’s incredible run who have sorely underperformed since. Just against Sevilla on Wednesday, Morgan gave away a blatant penalty with an ugly, petulant hack at Joaquin Correa’s legs, while Fuchs completely misjudged a cross en route to Pablo Sarabia’s opening goal.

Both have been equally as miserable in Premier League play. Morgan, the Leicester City captain, has looked every bit of his 33 years old, lumbering around the pitch unable to keep up with attackers slicing through the box. His successful tackle percentage is just 33%, and his pass accuracy is 69%, a shambolic combination for a defender. Fuchs, meanwhile, has been just as bad. Turning 31 himself in April, Fuchs was one of the worst players on the pitch in the 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and was yanked at halftime in the 2-0 loss to Swansea as he continued to struggle.

It’s surprising that Ranieri had kept faith in the two players after his comments on loyalty. One of the truest managers to his word in European soccer, the Italian said two weeks ago, “I could be [too loyal], could be. It is difficult when you achieve something so good, you want to give them one chance, two chances, three chances. Maybe now, it is too much. Of course I must change something because it is not possible to continue in this way.” He never backed up his words.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Ranieri had started his two aging defenders time and time again hoping they will recapture last season’s lightning. That’s flat out not happening. Just prior to Ranieri’s comments on loyalty, I wrote about how the failing defense was most responsible for this season’s struggles. Since that moment, despite both the obvious shortcomings of which were written and the manager’s statement on failing loyalty, nothing has changed.

Now, after they struggled again midweek, the two must sit immediately to avoid the otherwise inevitable. The last time Christian Fuchs started the game on the bench was the last time Leicester City won in the league, when young Ben Chilwell started at left-back and the Foxes shut out West Ham. Wes Morgan hasn’t sat a single minute in Premier League play, but he was rested for an FA Cup win over Derby County plus the subsequent loss to Millwall.

No, the manager can’t step out on the field and perform. He must be judged by the players he puts on the pitch, his tactics on the field, and his man-management off the pitch. Ranieri will always have last season, but he never left the title run behind. With Fuchs and Morgan – and to an extend Vardy as well – failing to perform to the standards of a Premier League team, Ranieri failed to leave last season in context and base his decisions in the present on what stared him right in the face.

Obviously this won’t solve the problem up front, with the Foxes still goalless in league play since Islam Slimani‘s winner against West Ham an appalling 610 minutes ago. The midfield is being overrun, the attack can’t deliver a competent cross, and set pieces appear to be the only time Leicester looks dangerous. Still, if the Foxes are to give themselves a chance of survival, now it’s up to the new manager to do what is right.

Claudio Ranieri will always be remembered for what he was able to achieve rather than what he was not. There’s plenty that isn’t his fault: the full makeup of the squad, the sale of N'Golo Kante, the failure by the board to truly spend the newfound coffers wisely. The end to the Italian’s Leicester City story is a sad, harsh one, but he only has himself to blame.