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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday