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”)]

source:
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.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.