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.

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone