On a frigid day in New York City, soccer journalists made the pilgrimage out to Harrison, New Jersey to engage in a roundtable discussion with some of Major League Soccer’s biggest stars.
First up was ‘The General’, Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley.
How has the league changed since you last played here?
It’s a different league. In 2004-2005 we’d show up at the old Giants Stadium, change, hop in a 15 passenger van to either Rutherford High School or New Jersey Institute of Technology, train, and then return to Giants stadium where people don’t even know who you are because Eminem is in town.
Now, the training ground in Toronto is the nicest I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t gotten up there to see the facilities and everything that’s going on, you should.
How important is a ‘culture’ at a club like Toronto?
Whether it’s Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United – they all have values and a culture ingrained there that sets the bar for anyone who walks in the door. Whether it’s a player, coach, chef, it doesn’t matter, the bar is set high any everyone who comes through the door must meet it.
In Toronto, the potential [for success] is scary. The city is amazing, the fans are dying to have a team they can identify with and be proud of, and they want to win. Every person who’s in Toronto is excited about the team and if we’re able to succeed the award will be greater than what anyone could imagine.
How do you deal with the pressure to succeed in Toronto?
We’re gonna enjoy it. This is why we all play, to play in big games. To play where there’s pressure, where the stadiums are sold out. This is what we all enjoy. It’s been interesting to see faces of the people around the league where all of a sudden Toronto is the first team everyone is talking about.
Will it be different to hit your ‘peak’ in MLS opposed to the Euro schedule you’re used to?
I want to hit a peak every time I step on the field. Regardless of where you’re playing, I’m still the same player. I love to train and I love to play. I look forward to matches on the weekend. I look forward to playing and it’s always important to take it one moment at a time.
MLS clubs are now paying more money for players, is this a good thing?
Absolutely. In every league in every sport there’s teams that spend a lot of money so MLS should be no different. Hopefully it raises the product and quality on the field. There are always smaller teams that will struggle to compete but at then end of the day it’s all even when you step on the field and the whistle blows.
What will you take from your time in Europe?
I learned as a player and a person. I went there at 18 years old and now I return with a wife and a little boy. I feel like I’ve grown and improved tremendously as a person and I’m committed to grow and improve in many ways.
Why aren’t Americans getting the opportunity to play in the Champions League?
We as Americans have to fight for respect. We have to continue to show we have teams and players to fight at the highest level. You would’ve hoped that over the last 10-15 years some players would’ve done more for us. There’s still a feeling, if a club can have an American or an Argentine, they want the Argentine. So for every guy who steps on the field for MLS, it’s up to us to show and prove we have players who can play at the highest level.
Arsenal – They fooled us again, you know? Arsenal ran through the Premier League following an Opening Day loss to Liverpool, not seeing another ‘L’ until a Dec. 13 loss at Everton. That one could count as a moment, but we’ll choose the following match. Raheem Sterling finished a classy Kevin De Bruyne pass to give the Gunners’ two losses in a row, and Arsenal wouldn’t beat a PL contender until toppling injury-hit Manchester United on May 7.
Bournemouth – Eddie Howe‘s bunch were winless in seven and trending downward when it arrived at Old Trafford on March 5. Marcos Rojo put United ahead in the 22nd and ex-Red Devil forward Josh King leveled via penalty in the 40th. The Cherries seemed doomed when Andrew Surman was sent off in the 45th, but somehow held on to grab a point (A missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty didn’t help things). Bournemouth won its next two, then drew Liverpool and Southampton en route to a top half finish.
Burnley – The Clarets can thank Mike Dean for their signature moment, a 1-0 win via a handled Sam Vokes effort that moved Burnley into ninth place in the league. Ninth place for little old Burnley. Sean Dyche‘s club would stay up. Now where will it go?
Chelsea – The Blues led the Premier League after August, but had dropped to eighth by the end of September. By the start of November, Chelsea sat fourth in the table. Everton arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues absolutely throttled the Merseyside club. Eden Hazard scored twice, the first moments before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0, and both Diego Costa and Pedro had also scored before the match was through. 5-0 spelled the fifth-straight win, and the Blues went on to win a historic 13-straight PL games.
Everton – It was a season, or at least half-season, of “so close” for Ronald Koeman‘s men. It didn’t get much clearer than the match that followed the Toffees’ second loss in the Merseyside Derby. Everton looked set for a rebound and a win at Old Trafford when Ashley Williams’ handled Luke Shaw’s stoppage time shot to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick that stole a point for the Red Devils.
Hull City – Unsure if this counts as “the season”, but Steve Bruce quitting the club three weeks before the season because of a lack of transfer ambition (amongst other things) spelled doom for the club far before Marco Silva nearly saved their season.
Leicester City – Firing Claudio Ranieri was a massive risk. The Foxes had posted the most remarkable season in world soccer less than a year before cutting ties with the Italian. While some — like me — would argue that transfer pick-up Wilfred Ndidi was the real reason for the turnaround, it also coincided with the managerial change.
Liverpool – The Reds had a knack for playing like results were expected against lesser lights, and late conceded goals are easy to find when reviewing their season (See Swansea below). It happened against powerful Manchester United, but it also happened against Sunderland. Jermain Defoe scored the second goal of his brace in the 84th minute to cost the Black Cats two points… again.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola led City to six-straight PL wins at the start of the season, but could only watch as Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs bettered him 2-0 at White Hart Lane to drop City to 6-1. It was one of just six losses on the season, five of which came away from the Etihad Stadium. That away form didn’t impress Guardiola, and it didn’t help City chase the title.
Manchester United – While their moment may still be coming in the form of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax, we’ll go with Jose Mourinho’s first tournament win with United: the EFL Cup Final. NBC analyst Robbie Earle often talks about good teams needing to find a way to win when they aren’t at their best, and United did it at Wembley. It could be a harbinger of what’s to come.
Middlesbrough – Boro went to West Brom on Aug. 28, unbeaten in a pair of PL matches. It remained unbeaten following the 0-0 draw, but the zero on its side of the scoreboard was extra significant for one reason: It was the first of a whopping 19 times that the Smoggies were kept off the scoreboard, including seven scoreless draws.
Southampton – Most of these moments are related to Premier League play, but the perfect summation of Saints’ up-and-down season may be the EFL Cup Final. Many believe Saints were the better side that day, only to fall short. The same can be said for their Europa League campaign. But results matter, and Saints didn’t make it back to Europe via either route.
Sunderland – The Black Cats managed to take multiple steps back for every step forward, so it’s fitting that we mark the 4-0 loss at home to Southampton on Feb. 11. It followed a 4-0 win against old manager Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace and a scoreless draw against Spurs. Sunderland was battered by a pair Manolo Gabbiadini goals, and the loss started a run that saw the Black Cats manage points in a whopping three of its 14 remaining matches.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs lost just four Premier League matches this season, and responded to each with a PL win. Three of those were blowouts, and the fourth was a 2-1 May win over Manchester United. One of those bounce backs happened to be two weeks after a road loss to Liverpool and three days after Spurs were bounced from the Champions League by Genk, as Harry Kane scored one of his four season hat trick and Dele Alli also scored in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City.
West Bromwich Albion – There’s a moment in every season which sees Tony Pulis‘ Baggies tease us with what they could do if they just allowed a little bit of open play to hamper their “Just Survive” mentality. This year it was a 3-1 win over Arsenal which begged West Brom supporters to imagine life in the Top Seven, only to let them down with another post-safety collapse. Woof.
That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.
“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.
There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.
Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?