MLS Media Day: Michael Bradley talks Toronto, club culture and success

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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.

source:
A new era is being ushered in at TFC, Bradley is delighted to be part of it.

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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.