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.

Watch Live: Five Premier League games at 10am ET

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Huddersfield host Man United, Burnley head to Man City, Stoke welcome Bournemouth, Crystal Palace are off to Newcastle and Swansea do battle with Leicester.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Huddersfield vs. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man City vs. Burnley – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle vs. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Chelsea 4-2 Watford: Blues launch superb comeback

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  • Chelsea score two late goals towin
  • Watford led 2-1 with 71 minutes gone
  • Azpilicueta grabs winner in 87th minute

The pressure eased slightly on Antonio Conte as Chelsea fought back from 2-1 down to beat Watford 4-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Chelsea took the lead through Pedro but Watford came surging back with Abdoulaye Doucoure equalizing and Roberto Pereyra putting them ahead either side of half time.

Richarlison had two glorious chances to extend Watford’s lead further but Michy Batshuayi jumped off the bench to make it 2-2 and Cesar Azpilicueta made it 3-2 late on before Batshuayi added another in stoppage time.

Cue relief around Stamford Bridge as Conte  jumped in with the fans to celebrate as for most of the game his team looked like they were heading for three-straight PL defeats for the first time since October 2015.

With the win Chelsea move on to 16 points for the season and jump ahead of Marco Silva‘s Watford into fourth place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

After an even start where Watford threatened on the break, Chelsea started to look dangerous down their right and Eden Hazard won a controversial corner kick which shouldn’t have been awarded as the ball came off his heel last.

From that corner it was played short to Pedro on the edge of the box and the Spaniard curled home a stunning effort off the far post and into the far corner. 1-0 to Chelsea as relief spread around Stamford Bridge.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Chelsea then wasted a glorious chance as Hazard danced free of Tom Cleverley and played in Alvaro Morata who found Cesc Fabregas in acres of space but his chipped effort was tame and Heurelho Gomes saved easily.

Richarlison was causing problems down the left flank as Watford tried to get back into the game but it was Chelsea who came close to going 2-0 up as Pedro flashed a low effort just wide of the post. Fabregas smashed a shot on goal which Gomes saved well but right on half time Watford equalized through Doucoure.

Jose Holebas’ long throw caused havoc and the ball dropped to Doucoure who squeezed home his effort at the near post. 1-1.

Game on.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

A lively start to the second half saw both Chelsea and Watford go close with crosses flying into the box and Watford should have gone 2-1 up with Richarlison somehow missing from a few yards out. A true miss of the season contender.

The Brazilian winger made amends for his miss moments later as he played in Pereyra to slot home. 2-1 to Watford.

With Chelsea’s defense all over the place it should have been 3-1 to Watford as Richarlison sent a header horribly wide from close range with the goal gaping.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

The chances kept coming for Watford as Richarlison was a nuisance and the Hornets looked more likely to extend their lead than Chelsea grabbing an equalizer.

Batshuayi was then introduced off the bench and he flicked home a header from Pedro’s cross to make it 2-2 and the Belgian went close on two other occasions as Chelsea pushed for a winner. Conte got his substitutions spot on as another sub, Davide Zappacosta, helped set up two attacks and the latter saw the home side seal victory.

Azpilicueta was the hero for Chelsea a few minutes from normal time as he arrived at the back post to nod home to make it 3-2 and then Batshuayi scored again in stoppage time to complete a hugely impressive comeback.

Some of the pressure on Conte is dissipating.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs: