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Transfer window grades: See how each Premier League team fared

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Over the past week at ProSoccerTalk, we have been analyzing all 20 Premier League teams and the deals they did in the January transfer window.

Now that all the wheeling and dealing is done, PST’s writers gave each team a grade based on their business and you can open up an individual post on each team for an in-depth look at their window activity, by clicking on the team name.

Here they are, let’s open up that old gradebook once again and see who finished top of the class…

Fulham – Grade: A-

New manager René Meulensteen had his work cut out for him entering January and arguably did more to change his side’s fate than any other manager in the Premier League. The acquisition of Mitroglou gives the Cottagers a proven, physically-imposing and skillful striker who looks tailor-made for the Premier League.

In Holtby, they’ve acquired a bright-spirited, creative midfielder who’s hungry to prove himself to both his parent club, Spurs, and his national team, Germany. The lanky William Kvist looks a real find as well while Dempsey provides experience and added depth, even if he looks off the pace so far. Heitinga provides depth to the back line although he’s not the kind of game-changing defender fans would’ve hope to bring in.

Meulensteen showed a keen eye for the future as well, signing Manchester United youngsters Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole. But perhaps the most important move the Dutch manager made was to rid his side of cancers, Adel Taraabt and Dimitar Berbatov. Both players, while talented, looked completely disinterested at Craven Cottage and had to go. Sending the underpeforming Bryan Ruiz out on loan was also a smart decision. Talent-wise, there’s little question Fulham should stay up. Now fans have to hope Meulensteen has assembled the right cast of characters to keep the club in England’s top-flight.

source:
Fulham did the best business of the window, as Mitroglou arrived for big bucks.

Hull City – Grade: A-

Prying Long from The Hawthorns was not easy, as Bruce and the club endured a drawn-out transfer saga.  Hull made a big run at Long last summer and seemed to have an agreement before the deal fell through late. So, half a season later, the Irish international is finally in place on a three-and-a-half year deal.

By then, Jelavic had already been secured – and happily so, it would seem, having found himself down the pecking order of forwards at Goodison Park. Like Long, he was also signed to a three-and-a-half year deal, according to reports.

The pair have already paid dividends, proving to be quite a handful for Tottenham in their weekend debut for Hull (a 1-1 draw). Long (described by Bruce as his “crown jewel”) had the goal. On a feed from Jelavic, no less.

One thing could have helped make the period even more prosperous:  Hull kicked the tires on luring Tom Ince from Blackpool but struggled to ever gain real traction on that one. (That’s the “minus” on the grade, on what could otherwise be called a grand transfer time for Bruce’s boys.)

Sunderland – Grade: A-

Marcos Alonso’s loan from Fiorentina has already made a huge difference. The former Bolton Wanderer has been among Sunderland’s best players in each of his appearances, fitting in perfectly with how Poyet wants to play moving forward.

Long term, the Spaniard may not be the team’s most valuable addition, even if they manage to keep him. That honor could belong to Ignacio , who has been one of South America’s most sought after strikers since he was playing in the Argentine Primera. Sunderland managed to snare him for $4.3 million. Although Jozy Altidore‘s play has improved and Steven Fletcher provides another viable option, Scoccio has the talent to be a starter in the Premier League. It’s just a matter of seeing if he adjusts (and if he can adjust this season).

Add in Ustari as a nice depth acquisition, Bridcutt already starting in central midfield, and the Black Cats finding homes for the likes of Cabral, Ji, Diakite and Graham, and it’s hard to image a more successful window. Everybody wants to see a big signings, but given the moves the Black Cats made this summer, that may not have been in the cards. Instead, Poyet’s brought in three of four key additions while keeping all his core components. That’s a successful window.

Tottenham Hotspur – Grade: A-

The argument could be made that by selling Jermain Defoe to MLS side Toronto FC, another striker should be brought in. But with  Roberto Soldado, the emergence of Emmanuel Adebayor under new manager Tim Sherwood and some talented youths on the up-and-up, a rush buy was not necessary. Letting Lewis Holtby go out on loan in a bid to make the German World Cup side was a good move. Rumors had him wanting a complete transfer away from White Hart Lane but the winger has bags of talent and selling him – or any other of the new boys brought in like Etienne Capoue – would have been a mistake.

The most important move Spurs made this season was to get rid of Andre Villas-Boas and hire Sherwood. The 45-year old is the quintessential player’s manager. He doesn’t over-coach, has a relaxed approach and he afford his players freedom in their style of play. Whether he’s the long-term answer is unclear but in the short-term he’s everything Spurs front office needed to counter-balance the overly-complicated ways imposed by Villas-Boas.

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Vincent Tan stumped up the cash to make sure Cardiff bolstered their squad.

In conclusion, Tottenham’s (potential) success this season had little to no bearing on the January transfer window. All the pieces were (and are) in place, it’s now up to Sherwood to make sure they fit snug.

Cardiff City – Grade: B+

It was a really good transfer window for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Cardiff City, as the team now looks a lot stronger as the squad has been bolstered with some talented youngsters joining.

The likes of Zaha and Fabio, who both joined from Man United, have something to prove and will be key to the Bluebirds survival bid between now and May. Wollf Eikrem, Moller Daehli and Inge Berget are unknown quantities but are rated highly by Solksjaer. So don’t be surprised to see a few of those Scandinavians burst onto the scene. With all of that youth on board, bringing someone like Kenwyne Jones is exactly what Cardiff needed. He scored the winning goal on his debut against Norwich on Saturday, as Solksjaer’s transformation is taking shape already. Terrific window of wheeling and dealing for the young manager. Cardiff won’t be going anywhere without a fight.

Chelsea Grade: B+

It could be argued that selling Mata, and doing so to a fellow Premier League club, was a mistake. But United are not competitors of Chelsea this season and the influence of Mata will only serve to frustrate Chelsea’s true competitors, Arsenal and Manchester City, who have yet to face the Red Devils for a second time. In the future Mata may come to roost but the facts now are that Jose Mourinho wasn’t playing him, already has Oscar, operates in a club flush with cash and made a £14M profit (after three trophies in three years) in selling the Spanish attacker. That profit, however, went directly to the purchase of Matic, who Chelsea previously sent to Benfica as a makeweight for the £25M purchase of David Luiz in 2011, meaning they took a heavy loss in bringing him back to Stamford Bridge. The sprawling Matic will be a huge defensive boost to the holding midfield, and, in time, the 19-year-old Zuoma will blossom into a beasting center-back for the Blues.

Finally, it could be argued that Mourinho failed to address his greatest need, that being for a proven striker. While Fernando Torres or Samuel Eto’o (and to a lesser extent, Demba Ba) could catch fire, The Special One claims that the issue of buying a world-class striker will be addressed in the coming summer (likely in a swap deal of Thibaut Courtois for Diego Costa). If, however, Chelsea fail to win the Premier League this season, Mourinho’s failure to do the business in January could be seen as a major oversight. Only time will tell.

Crystal Palace – Grade: B

If the new Eagles’ boss entered January hoping to make room and bolster, he accomplished both. Finding homes for 12 players, four leaving on permanent moves, Pulis has done his spring cleaning in winter, with the players being brought in all looking like useful parts.

source: Getty Images
Puncheon sealed his permanent move to Palace.

In that way, this wasn’t just shuffling the deck. In Ince and Ledley, Pulis brought in the type of players he didn’t have at his disposal. There’s an upside to Dann that could make him a value buy (assuming that undisclosed fee is reasonably low). Puncheon provides the goals that Cameron Jerome has been unable to find, while Hennessey gives the team depth should anything happen to Julian Speroni. It wasn’t spectacular, but Crystal Palace’s January window was eminently solid. It was the Tony Pulis of transfer windows.

Everton – Grade: B

Everton manager Roberto Martinez checked all the boxes for his side’s needs but many fans felt let down at his failure to purchase a striker. Bringing in the 6′ 8″ Traore on a loan seems a good bit of business but with the sale of Nikica Jelavic to Hull City, the Toffees now boast two true strikers, both of whom are on loan.

The issue won’t be a problem this year but in terms of building for the future feels a bit short-sighted. Had Everton purchased a young striker he could have worked with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, giving him an invaluable experience entering the 2014/15 season. Instead, the Toffees will head into this summer with Arouna Kone, who’s coming off a major knee injury, the seldom-used Apostolos Vellios, and Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas, who can play the role despite not being true strikers.

The addition of McGeady was a welcome one and at £2.5m was good deal financially. The speedy Irishman will patrol the right wing, allowing Mirallas to take up more central roles. McGeady is now the fourth Republic of Ireland midfielder on the Toffees roster and early indications are that he loves the club and fits in well, although his on-field performances haven’t overwhelmed.

The loss of Bryan Oviedo to injury is a tough one for Everton after the Costa Rican made an impact at left-back and left midfield in the first half of the season. The failure to replace him and Johnny Heitinga with another defender could look an oversight although the rise of young John Stones should provide sufficient cover.

Southampton – Grade: B

As we mentioned, Saints didn’t bring anyone in this January, but why would you need to when you have so many young studs rolling off the production line at their renowned academy? Right now they have academy products Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher regularly involved in the first-team squad and are the envy of clubs across the PL.

Many thought Pochettino would bring in another striker to replace Osvaldo, after his remarkable training ground bust-up which saw him banned, but instead 18-year-old Gallagher was put into the first team and has shown he’s good enough to play in the PL. Keeping onto Lallana, Shaw and Lambert was key for stability at St. Mary’s. Now Saints can kick on in the final few months of the season to try and bag their highest-ever finish in the PL.

source: Getty Images
Yohan Cabaye left Newcastle, as the Magpies sold him to PSG for $30 million

Newcastle United – Grade: B-

“Oh my God, they sold their best player and they get a B,” that guy you know from Twitter’s about to say. They do, and the grade would be higher if the Magpies had done more to augment their other holes. Though Cabaye’s departure arguable creates another problem, their ability to work $30 million out of the situation is a huge positive.

The negatives: They’re left hoping a three-man middle of Vurnon Anita, Cheik Tioté, and Moussa Sissoko will work (a reasonable guess); they didn’t get a proven scorer to augment Rémy; and their lack of depth at the back could still see Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa utilized as a full back, when injuries or suspensions arise.

Manchester City – Grade: C+

Perhaps there are some in panic mode after watching Chelsea put an end to Manchester City’s absurdly-heroic and prolific run at the Etihad, It’s very difficult to fault Pellegrini for not adding to his squad and he protected any major perceived want-aways from hurting his depth. Really their only significant move was letting Guidetti get some match time over at Stoke City (which was pretty intelligent considering, again, that the young Swedish player wasn’t about to dent a lineup that’s already rung up more than 100 goals).

That’s the softest C we could offer. Even if City ends up dealing with a gross amount of injuries, it’d be fair to write it off as fate rather than unpreparedness. The squad appears deep enough for two Cup runs — one that only has a single date left — and Europe. How many other squads can say that?

source: AP
That man Mata was United’s club record signing and will be integral if they’re going to make the top 4.

Manchester United – Grade: C+

Getting Mata goes a long way toward a good grade, but United overpaid. Based on this weekend’s loss at Stoke, they also seem willing to move the Spaniard out of his best position, casting Mata as an extremely talented but overpriced player for whom United are unable to carve out a position. Mata may excel wide and justify every pounds spent. He may also leave Red Devils’ fans wondering what $61 million could have done in midfield and defense.

It’s still difficult to argue United haven’t gotten better in the winter window, which it why I’ve given them a passing grade. But given their needs, the Champions League stakes, and their resources, the Red Devils could have done more.

Aston Villa – Grade: C

Aston Villa are not big spenders and were never going to buy big in January, that’s not the clubs philosophy. They needed some extra depth in a few positions and Paul Lambert got that with the loan deals for Ryan Bertrand and Grant Holt. Bertrand has been great at left back, while Holt will add something different to the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann up top.

All in all, a very quite window for Villa. Not much to see here. Now the focus, for yet another season, is on Premier League survival.

Arsenal – Grade: C-

Arsene Wenger had one area to strengthen in the window, and he didn’t get to do it. I get it, it’s tough to find a top striker that’s better than what you have. But let’s be honest, Arsenal haven’t got a lot of options in attack. With Theo Walcott out injured, only Podolski, Bendtner and Giroud can play in the central role. With a hard slog of Champions League, PL and FA Cup matches coming up, they needed more depth. Wenger should have splashed the cash to bring in a top striker. This was the window where they should’ve made a marquee signing. But if a player isn’t available, like Diego Costa, then what can you do?

Bringing in Kallstrom was okay, he will slot in and do a decent job in the absence of Ramsey and Flamini for a few weeks. But I think Arsenal’s fans, and perhaps their manager, expected to do a lot better in this window.

source: Getty Images
Antonio Nocerino, right, has joined West Ham on loan from AC Milan.

West Ham United – Grade: C

Borriello, 31, has seven caps for Italy. No, that’s not exactly Paolo Rossi as Azzurri all-time strikers go, but he’s got something. Having scored once in 11 Roma appearances this year, a change of address can’t hurt, and maybe can find some of the 2008 form, when Borriello flirted with the Italian Serie A scoring leadership.At the very least, he provides some cover for the inconsistent and unreliable Andy Carroll.

Nocerino, 28, has 15 caps for Italy, most prominently as a member of the country’s European Championships team from 2012. While he’s not completely useless, he had become surplus around AC Milan, even more so now Michael Essien’s arrival from Chelsea. It’s fair to ask if a midfielder in such poor from around the San Siro is the man who can help the Hammers dodge relegation?

Norwich City – Grade: C-

Yeah, it’s a pretty low grade for the Canaries, because Chris Hughton has failed to strengthen in the area he needed to. However that might not be his fault as Norwich’s resources are likely to be limited, especially after splashing out over $20 million on van Wolfswinkel and Hooper this summer, and January didn’t have many bargains.

Last year Norwich brought in the likes of Kei Kamara to bolster the strikeforce late in the season and that worked to help keep them up. I do worry for the Canaries this year though, because I just don’t see where the goals are coming from. That, and they are only two points above the relegation zone.

Stoke City – Grade: C-

How you feel about Stoke’s window comes down to Odemwingie and Guidetti. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say either represents a significant improvement. While each have the talent to have a major impact, recent history and early returns say Stoke’s treading water. Odemwingie is a skilled player who tantalized at West Brom, but in his last 72 Premier League games, he’s scored a Crouch-esque 16 goals. How much of an improvement that represents on Assaidi, Jon Walters, or Arnautovic is debatable, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Guidetti is already making noise about being unhappy with his playing time (he was briefly ill). Perhaps that gets worked out and he can have a major impact over the next four months. More likely: If he’s not getting significant time early, he has one or two other steps before being a relegation-saver.

Stoke failed to meaningfully address any of their issues, but they brought in two guys who could turn probability on its head. Given the cost (just wages, presumably), they’re worth a shot.

source: AP
Liverpool could not clinch the deal for Konoplyanka on deadline day, as the Reds struggled in the window.

Liverpool – Grade: D

It’s not right to toss a huge ‘F’ on the Reds, as the club is in pretty good shape. Their strike force is flying with SAS on cruise control and players like Jordan Henderson have been playing very well, but sometimes you need to take a risk to boost your chances at the Champions League and that time seemed now with no clear giant emerging this season (or better put: no club seizing the opportunities atop the PL). Sure, spending for spending’s sake isn’t a great idea but if the Reds are looking back at this year from a spot outside of Europe or mere points from the top, they’ll look back at a January window and wonder if it was fate… or just laziness.

Swansea City – Grade: D

Two points shy of the relegation zone with 14 league matches to play and the Europa League set to start up, Swansea City are in the muck and did little transfer-wise to give themselves hope of getting out of it. They desperately needed to land players who could contribute straight away and failed to do so.

N’Gog and perhaps Emnes are the only players of the lot who could potentially make an impact in the top flight. The 24-year old N’Gog has Premier League experience with Liverpool and Bolton and although he didn’t exactly light it up, there were matches where the 6’3″ Frenchman showed promise. The 25-year old Emnes scored 24 goals in 141 matches at Championship side Middlesborough, hardly numbers that will have the Jacks thinking the Dutchman can make an impact at the Liberty. Meanwhile Fulton, King and Hanley are all under the age of 20 and are projects for the future.

It was bargain basement shopping by Huw Jenkins. Over time, one or two of these players might pan out but the likelihood any will have a significant impact this spring is extremely low. Making things worse, Jenkins also went ahead and fired manager Michael Laudrup this week (appointing long-time defender Garry Monk as caretaker manager), so things at the South Wales club are, without a doubt, in shambles.

West Bromwich Albion – Grade: D-

It’s a D- rather than an outright F because the Baggies did get some money for Long. The Irishman was always bound to leave, wasn’t he? He came so close to putting the Hawthorns in his rear view mirror last summer, only to see that relocation into Hull collapse at the 11th hour.

With six months to go before he could leave on a free transfer, the Baggies more or less had to move him. When the offer came in over $10 million, there really wasn’t any choice. Now, should management have done more with that money? Of course. Reinforcements anywhere around the ground would have helped, but the gaping hole was at left back, where neither Liam Ridgewell nor Goran Popov have proven capable of holding serve consistently.

MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 0-2 New York City FC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): With one goal already accomplished for New York City FC this season, Patrick Vieira’s group made positive strides in capturing another on Friday night in Houston. David Villa’s 20th and 21st tallies of the season gave the visitors the lead after halftime and NYCFC managed to hold onto the points from there. With just two matches remaining following the win over the Dynamo, NYCFC currently sits atop the Eastern Conference on 51 points. Meanwhile, the Dynamo remain nine points out of the final spot in the West with four matches to play.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira gets big praise from Dynamo counterpart ]

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Harrison tests Willis from distance — Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, but Joe Willis had to get down quickly here to deny Jack Harrison on this blast.

52′ — Villa hits his 20th on the season — The Dynamo defense won’t be pleased when they watch this one again, but in his typical fashion, David Villa found his way in on goal.

73′ — Saunders watches as Rodriguez hits post — It can be a game of inches at times and the Dynamo were certainly on the wrong end of this one as Raul Rodriguez’s effort struck the post and stayed out.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: David Villa (52′, 90′)

SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal

JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 24:  Besart Berisha action during the AFC Champions League Round Of 16 match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Melbourne Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on May 24, 2016 in Jeonju, South Korea.  (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.

The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.

A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.

An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.

The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC heads over to take a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.

A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.

You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.

[ MORE: JPW talks with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).

Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.

“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.

“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”

Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.


[ MORE: Wisconsin sophomore set to face Mexico, USMNT ]


Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.

The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.

It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.

“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.

“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”

Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10: Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.

Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.

The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.

“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”


[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]


The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.

The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of an international friendly match between Bolivia and the United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.

Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.

“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.

“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”

You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.


The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.

And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.

But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.

“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.

“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”

Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.

Orlando City's Kaka, center, battles with Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, as Amando Cooper looks on during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).

“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.

“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”


[ MORE: MLS Playoff picture — Who can clinch? ]


To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.

Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.

Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.

Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.

But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)