Within a matter of hours, Michael Bradley’s switch to Toronto FC has gone from Twitter sensation to verified move, with sources confirming to ESPN that the 26-year-old midfielder is on his way back to Major League Soccer. For a fee of between $7 and $10 million, the Reds are set to acquire the 82-time U.S. international from Italy’s AS Roma, with Bradley set to earn near-$6.5 million per season at BMO Field.
As with anything that hasn’t been officially announced, the exact numbers are still blurry. Reports have Bradley’s contract in Toronto as either a five- or six-year deal. While one source is telling ESPN that Roma will get $7 million to allow Bradley to return to MLS, league sources are saying Roma will get “in excess of $10 million” for a player they bought from Chievo in the summer of 2012.
Bradley’s reported salary would be a huge step up from the wages he garnered at Roma. Paid €800,000 after tax in Italy (roughly $1.1 million), the former Metro Stars midfielder would be making between five- and six-times more money to shift back to Major League Soccer. While they’ll certainly be questions about the motives of a 26-year-old midfielder swapping Serie A for Toronto FC, the pure financial motivation makes it difficult to argue with Bradley’s move.
One lingering question with the deal is who will pay the transfer fee, though if the Clint Dempsey example is any indication, Major League Soccer may have again broken out the checkbook. While it was initially assumed the Seattle Sounders had paid the price of Dempsey’s summer acquisition from Tottenham, reporting by Sports Illustrated later revealed the league had paid the former Spur’s transfer fee. As the 2013 season progressed, it was revealed other teams had benefitted from new policies allowing the league to pay part or all of certain players’ transfer fees.
One remaining snag for Toronto is their Designated Player situation. With the acquisition of Jermain Defoe, Toronto have used up their allotment of DP slots, with the former Spurs striker joining Matias Laba and Gilberto on the Reds’ books. Laba, an Argentine midfielder brought in under Kevin Payne, appears to be the on his way out, with Toronto looking for a home for the 22-year-old former Argentinos Juniors midfielder. If he can’t be traded, Laba’s contract will have to be renegotiated (or, its salary cap hit paid down by allocation money) to make room for Bradley.
It’s an unfortunate externality of the Bradley transaction, but with the former Heerenveen, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Aston Villa midfielder returning to Major League Soccer for the first time since 2005, it’s a small price to play to add a marquee name. Bradley not only becomes a focal point in midfield for Ryan Nelsen’s team, but he also represents a huge acquisition for Tim Leiweke – the Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment chief executive who is overseeing the revitalization of TFC.
Today, Leiweke’s taken two huge steps toward replicating the star power he accumulated in Los Angeles, where he served a similar, architect’s role. With the Galaxy, Leiweke was crucial to the acquisitions of David Beckham and Robbie Keane, and while Bradley and Defoe may not carry the same star power, their signings represent an instant credibility boost to a team that’s never made the playoffs.
That lack of success has translated into only 17 wins in the last three years, something that’s led to a major hit at BMO’s turnstiles. A team that regularly sold out their park over its first five years has seen a near-10 percent drop in attendance over the last two, with average crowds at Toronto games hitting an all-time low of 18,131 last season.
The acquisitions of Bradley and Defoe give Leiweke ammunition to reverse that trend. Not only has he given Toronto the type of talents they’ve never had in the franchise’s five-year history, but he’s also given supporters reason to halt the exodus from BMO Field.