Michael Bradley

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

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Michael Bradley may be coming back to Major League Soccer. Even if he doesn’t — if he has some kind of last minute change of course that undermines all the news we’ve heard on Wednesday — just take a moment to consider what’s going on. This is a U.S. international that’s in the undisputed prime of his career – one that has played at the top-level in England, Germany, and Italy. He is fighting for time right now, but he’s fighting for time for the second place team in the Italian Serie A. And despite all of this — despite his earning potential, his stature at a big Italian club, and a World Cup on the horizon — Michael Bradley might be coming back to Major League Soccer.

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

What is happening with this league? Just five years ago, this circuit was struggling for international relevance ahead of a World Cup that would see only six Major League Soccer players feature in South Africa. The four MLS players Bob Bradley picked for the U.S. squad represented the lowest total since MLS came into existence in 1996. The question of whether the U.S.’s top talent should be playing domestically or in Europe seemed to be resolved (in Europe’s favor), while the league was still struggling to come to grips with the need to fit in the Beckhams and Henrys of the world in financially constrained business model.

Fast forward to 2014, and we have a league willing to pay Tottenham Hotspur $9 million to get Clint Dempsey to Seattle. We see Seattle (and other sources) willing to guarantee the U.S. captain $8 million per year to play in Major League Soccer, with another, younger, even better American set to follow. Add in the commitments to players like Beckham, Henry, Robbie Keane, and Tim Cahill (and nearly every team using the Designated Player rule), and you have a league that looks nothing like it’s pre-South Africa self. Either MLS is spending itself into the ground (unlikely, given the still modest sums going to total payroll) or a new, more financially viable era of Major League Soccer has produced a makeover.

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

Five years ago, there were serious questions about MLS’s direction. The league had recovered from its post-Florida contraction doldrums, had expanded into places like Salt Lake, Toronto, and Los Angeles, yet before the Pacific Northwest expansion, there were still major questions as to whether the league was capturing hearts and minds. Why those questions still remain, they’ve taken a different form post-Beckham: where market’s like Seattle’s, Portland’s, and Kansas City’s (re-branded) are generating new excitement; where the league is pushing on to a 24-team format that would have sounded foolish a decade ago. Now the question isn’t whether the league is growing. It’s how the league can grow responsibly.

source: AP
Even more than Clint Dempsey’s acquisition by the Seattle Sounders, Michael bradley’s potential returns represents progress from Major League Soccer. (Photo: AP.)

Even more than Clint Dempsey’s move to Seattle, Michael Bradley’s potential switch to Toronto give us reason to appreciate that progress. Bradley is four years younger than Dempsey and isn’t being lured by a situation like Seattle’s. He’s willing to forgo four, maybe six more years in Europe to come back to a relatively struggling team, and while he’ll certainly be handsomely compensated to do so, there are still a number of factors here that force us to reconsider MLS’s new drawing power. Like the Dempsey deal, there’s no way something like this happens four or five years ago.

So as all this Michael Bradley news unfolds (and at this point, it sounds like an inevitability) , it might be worth suspending disbelief and considering the progress. Why is a 26-year-old returning to MLS? Why is he passing on Europe to come back home? Why is he choosing Toronto, and (for that matter) why is Toronto making such a huge commitment to him?

There are good answers to all of these questions, answers that we’ll dive into as news of Bradley’s arrival starts to be confirmed. For now, however, it’s worth putting those curiosities aside for a moment of reelection. Whether the move gets finalized or not, Major League Soccer’s now in a place where a $10 million transfer and $8 million salary can happen under the right circumstances. That those circumstances are even possible is a huge testament to the league’s upward trajectory.

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham

Predicting EFL Cup final lineups: Man United v Saints

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibbrahimovic  of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton contest the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium this Sunday as the first trophy of the domestic season in England is up for grabs.

[ MORE: Follow EFL Cup final live

Jose Mourinho’s United go into the clash on a roll after losing just one game in their last 25 in all competitions, while pushing themselves back into the top four hunt and reaching both the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League.

As for Southampton, Claude Puel‘s men are the undisputed underdogs but will fancy their chances of causing an upset after beating both Arsenal and Liverpool to make it to their first League Cup final since 1979 and just the second in their 132-year history.

Below is a look at how both teams could line up on Sunday, with some analysis on how it could play out.


Manchester United

—– De Gea —–

— Valencia — Bailly — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

—- Mata —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Ibrahimovic —–

Subs: Romero, Young, Rojo, Jones, Martial, Lingard, Rooney

United have some injury concerns ahead of the final with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick limping off against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday in the Europa League. Mourinho believes they’re big doubts to play at Wembley. That means one of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will come in for Mkhitaryan and it will probably be Rashford who has looked increasingly dangerous in recent weeks.

The back four picks itself and with Carrick likely out, you’d expected Ander Herrera to be joined by Marouane Fellaini in midfield. The only other question is whether or not Wayne Rooney will be fit enough to play some part after spending over three weeks on the sidelines.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the line and his partnership with Paul Pogba will test Southampton’s makeshift defense severely.


Southampton

—– Forster —–

Cedric — Stephens — Yoshida — Bertrand —

—- Romeu —- Davis —-

—- Redmond —- Tadic —- Ward-Prowse —-

—– Gabbiadini —–

Subs: Hassen, McQueen, Caceres, Hojbjerg, Rodriguez, Sims, Long

Saints have a few key players missing for this clash and their biggest concern will be in central defense. After selling Jose Fonte in January, they then lost Virgil Van Dijk through injury. That forced Puel to bring in Martin Caceres on a short-term deal but the former Barcelona and Juventus defender hasn’t played in over a year so academy product Jack Stephens will likely start alongside Maya Yoshida. Can they shackle Ibrahimovic? In midfield Oriol Romeu has been incredible in the holding role and he will go head-to-head with Pogba, while alongside him club captain Steven Davis will provide a good base to snuff out United’s attack.

James Ward-Prowse could get the nod over Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez out wide due to his set-piece deliveries, while Dusan Tadic in-behind Manolo Gabbiadini will be Saints’ biggest attacking threat. They were struggling for goals with Charlie Austin out injured but Gabbiadini has scored three in his first two games for Saints since arriving in January from Napoli.


Where next? Rooney’s agent in China discussing offers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United shows appreciation to the fans after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney‘s potential move to the Chinese Super League appears to be drawing closer.

[ MORE: What’s the best option for Rooney? ]

Multiple outlets are reporting that Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, has traveled to China to discuss a potential transfer to the CSL for his client ahead of the transfer window closing in China on Feb. 28.

Where is he going in China?

According to the BBC Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian are the favorites for his signature, while yesterday a report from Sky Sports suggested Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Sinobo Guoan were the front-runners to sign Rooney. With the strict laws on each team being allowed just four players from outside the Asian Football Confederation in their squad (plus, a new rule for the 2017 season means only three foreign players can be on the pitch for each team at the same time) there appears to be only a few options for Rooney.

Jiangsu Suning, Tianjin Quanjian and Beijing Sinobo Guoan all have an open spot for a foreign player, while Guangzhou Evergrande — who have won the CSL six years on the spin and are managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari — have all of their available slots locked up with Jackson Martinez and Paulinho on board.

Stars such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Graziano Pelle, Martinez and Alex Teixeira have taken up plenty of the international spots as talent continues to flock to China. Rooney is reportedly being offered in excess of $43.5 million per season which would make him the best-paid player on the planet.

The all-time leading goalscorer for Manchester United and England certainly seems to have options, even if this move isn’t pushed through by next Tuesday and instead happens in the summer.

Should Rooney move on from United?

It appears that he is reluctant to do so but with the 31-year-old in and out of the team this season and other attackers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in good form, getting regular minutes will be a struggle for the legendary forward who has spent the last 13 years at Old Trafford.

Rooney’s current deal at United runs out until 2019 but it appears a move to China for one final payday seems like an increasingly likely proposition.

LA Galaxy’s reserve team to hold open tryouts in England

CARSON CA - AUGUST 9: Making his MLS debut Giovani Dos Santos #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy congratulates Gyasi Zardes #11 after he scored a goal against Seattle Sounders during the first half at StubHub Center August 9, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) The LA Galaxy’s reserve team will hold open tryouts in England this summer in an attempt to find overlooked talent for the Major League Soccer franchise.

The LA Galaxy II announced the tryouts Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Players between 16 and 25 years old will be welcomed in London on May 31 and June 1 and in Manchester on June 3-4. At least five players from each city will be selected and flown to the Galaxy’s training complex in suburban Los Angeles for another week of trials.

Former England captain David Beckham leads a long list of prominent European talent that has suited up for the five-time MLS champion Galaxy.

Among the club’s English players, defender Ashley Cole is in his second season, while Steven Gerrard left the club last year.