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What if new TFC man Michael Bradley had remained at Roma?

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The reflexive attitude in so many corners seems to be that Bradley’s soccer skills and acumen will suffer for his move in Major League Soccer. But is that really the case?

It’s an important question since Bradley is, beyond question, the most important man in the U.S. mix as World Cup 2014 in Brazil creeps ever closer. (If you don’t agree, then you haven’t paid attention to the United States team without and without its top midfield passer and organizer — and “top” by a long, long way.)

There’s a reasonable argument that his move out of Roma and into MLS is the best possible thing for Bradley in the short term – and therefore the best possible thing for the United States national team ahead of its big summer trip into Brazil.

There is no question that Roma and Serie A represent a higher level than Major League Soccer. That’s not a knock on MLS, just a fact.

But that doesn’t matter much if Bradley is barely playing at the Stadio Olimpico. And he isn’t. The U.S. midfielder had five starts in the fall for second place Roma. What’s more, the prospect for increased playing time for Rudi Garcia’s club were getting worse, not better.

Roughly speaking, Garcia had four midfielders for his three spots in the team’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. Bradley was clearly Garcia’s fourth option. That’s not a terrible spot to be in … if someone gets hurt or even if the team hits a bad run of form. But things were all healthy and happy for Garcia’s galloping club.

And then …

The Serie A club went and got Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan on loan from Cagliari. So all of the sudden Bradley was looking at a role of fifth man in a three-man rotation. Yuk.

Not to mention the confidence blow attached to Roma’s new acquisition from Belgium (with the option to buy, by the way).

All of you that wanted to see Bradley remain at Roma … how would that help the U.S. national team escape its date with the Group of Death? To have Bradley languishing on the bench at the Stadio Olimpico … let’s not pretend try to put a good spin on that one, eh?

To be sharp, Bradley is better off playing, not sitting – even if it’s in a league of lesser quality. At Toronto, he’ll not only be an automatic selection, he’s expected to be a leader, the “keyest” of key men around BMO Field. For a $10 million transfer price, that’s certainly a reasonable expectation, and it’s yet another step in Bradley’s ongoing development.

Beginning in mid-March, Bradley will feature weekly for Toronto FC. And depending on when Jurgen Klinsmann gathers the U.S. group for pre-World Cup camp, Bradley might even sneak in a big match or two in the Amway Canadian Cup.

Toronto faces Vancouver in an important two-leg semifinal series: the first leg is May 7 in Toronto, with the return leg set for a week later in Vancouver. Maybe that’s not a biggie in your mind, but for the long-suffering faithful around Exhibition Place, it is a big deal. (Not to mention the spot in CONCACAF Champions League on the line.)

(MORE: U.S. Soccer fans critical of Michael Bradley’s move to MLS: get over yourselves!)

(MORE: On U.S. player destination debates, all these conversations are different)

(MORE: Where Bradley’s signing falls in all-time MLS significance)

(MORE: What Toronto’s starting lineup might look like with Defoe, Bradley)

(MORE: Why Bradley is worth the money for Toronto FC)

USMNT WCQ roster includes mix of young and old

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 21:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on prior to a 2016 Copa America Centenario Semifinal match against Argentina at NRG Stadium on June 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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With the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualification back underway in five days and the United States still somewhat hanging in the balance, Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to lean on much of the core group of players he has for the last couple of years.

However, with Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes both finding themselves on the sidelines in recent days, the U.S. manager has been forced to include a couple of unexpected faces.

Usual suspects in Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Jozy Altidore glue together the roster. Brad Guzan is in as well, after having started twice in Premier League play for Middlesbrough in place of an injured Victor Valdes. Jordan Morris is back in the attack, along with Bobby Wood who scored a goal on his Bundesliga debut with Hamburg. Young Christian Pulisic is there as well as an attacking option in midfield, with Darlington Nagbe also an option more centrally.

Alongside them is another familiar face in Chris Wondolowski, likely part of the roster because of the recent injuries to Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes. Dempsey is sidelined indefinitely with an irregular heartbeat, while Zardes was injured while playing for the LA Galaxy on Saturday night.

Some other decisions by Klinsmann make it clear he went with established and experienced bodies over youthful energy in key places. Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta at a thin outside back position rather than call in Lynden Gooch for his first senior cap. Gooch has surprisingly seen time in the Sunderland starting lineup, but Klinsmann likely wished to leave him in England to help settle in at the club level.

Timmy Chandler does not appear despite appearing as a substitute for Frankfurt in their Bundesliga season opener this weekend. Omar Gonzalez is back, hoping to make just his second national team appearance since last September. Julian Green also doesn’t make the cut despite earning a spot on the Bayern Munich first team, although he has not made a league appearance yet.

A new face many may not recognize is 23-year-old defensive midfielder Caleb Stanko, who comes into the national team from Swiss club FC Vaduz where he was sent on loan from parent club Freiburg. Stanko is uncapped, and was called into camp in May but did not appear in the subsequent friendly against Puerto Rico.

ROSTER

GK: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

DEF: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)

MF: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FWD: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)

Manchester City 3-1 West Ham: Sterling shines with double

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with Nolito, Gael Clichy (2ndL) and David Silva (L) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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West Ham gave Manchester City a bit of a scare early in the second half, but Raheem Sterling‘s second goal of the afternoon provided the home side with all three points at the Etihad Stadium.

The Citizens held on for a 3-1 win on Sunday after Sterling found the back of the net twice, with the second coming in the dying minutes from a close-range tap in.

In the 18th minute, Kevin De Bruyne hit a superb free kick directly into the path of Fernandinho, who smashed home a header to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage.

Without a host of players for the visitors, City took it to their opposition early on when David Silva started a strong attack down the center of the West Ham defense. The Spaniard played the ball out wide to Nolito before finding an open Raheem Sterling, who calmly slotted his effort into the corner for the lead after seven minutes.

Michail Antonio provided West Ham with a lifeline following halftime, however, it wasn’t enough for the visitors to complete the comeback. Antonio headed home at the far post just prior to the hour mark after Arthur Masuaku beat his man and found the attacker.

Video: City clinical on set piece to double lead

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Manchester City has lived up to the billing early on in the Pep Guardiola era, and the first half of Sunday’s match against West Ham has been everything the Spaniard could hope for.

After taking an early lead through Raheem Sterling after seven minutes, Fernandinho doubled the City lead in the 18th minute after a stellar set piece situation.

Kevin De Bruyne‘s stepped up for a free kick before the Belgian curled his effort directly into the path of Fernandinho, who headed home the hosts for the 2-0 lead.

Even though West Ham is understandably undermanned with Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll and others, City is putting on a show right now at the Etihad.

West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough: Guzan holds Baggies scoreless

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Cristhian Stuani of Middlesbrough takes on Brendan Galloway and Claudio Yacob (R) of West Bromwich Albion  during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough at The Hawthorns on August 28, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t the most attractive perfromance all around but Middlesbrough remained perfect on Sunday after finishing level in their 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion from The Hawthorns.

Brad Guzan earned his second start in net on Sunday since joining Middlesbrough, and the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper was active early on, making two key saves in the first half to keep the match scoreless.

Despite Boro’s success in possession, the team lacked a final touch early on and failed to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. West Brom was successful in limiting Alvaro Negredo’s touches early on, which prevented the road side from getting any sort of offensive rhythm.

West Brom continued to press for the opener in the second stanza, however, the home side’s remained limited and largely unthreatening. Craig Dawson had an opportunity to open the scoring in the 63rd minute with a header from close range, but the attempt missed wide of net after Matt Phillips played in the service.