Michael Bradley, if the January soccer rumor mill is to believed, is on the verge of a move back to MLS with Toronto FC. This move comes completely out of nowhere and is a total puzzler. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman tweeted out the news Wednesday afternoon and set off a frenzy in the U.S. Soccer Twittersphere:
There’s so many unknowns and almost equally as much to digest. If this rumor is indeed true, figure Bradley is getting a huge raise through the MLS designated player rule. For comparison’s sake, Clint Dempsey pocketed over $5 million after moving back to MLS with the Seattle Sounders last summer. Bradley might not get that much, but Toronto is a team looking to make a splash and reportedly inked Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe on Wednesday. (Toronto has two DPs under contract and MLS allows up to three, so the club would have to juggle its roster.)
Don’t discount the fact Tim Leiweke is the CEO Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns TFC. He’s the same man that helped bring David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Toronto Star reports TFC is planning to spend close to $100 million to sign both Defoe and Bradley and would announce them on Jan. 13, as teased in this brief clip:
As far-flung as this rumor sounds, Bradley’s current club, Roma, did sign Beligan midfielder Radja Nainggolan earlier this week, so it’s possible his time in the Italian capital could be coming to an end.
TFC has never made the playoffs since it’s founding in 2006 and has been mostly a failure on the field, with numerous high-priced players coming to BMO Field and flopping such as Julian de Guzman and Mista. Netting both Defoe and Bradley in the January transfer window would be a step in the right direction, however USMNT fans would have to be leery given the team’s woeful track record and a World Cup looming in June. For Toronto, this would be a move that actually makes a ton of sense on the field, which can’t always be said of player transactions.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this reported deal is Bradley — you’ think — is a player driven more by ambition than money. Since moving from the MetroStars to Dutch club Heerenveen in 2006, he’s steadily climbed up the ladder, moving to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany (with a brief loan to Aston Villa mixed in) and then Chievo in Italy before a move to Roma, which many consider a “big club.” At only 26 years old, a move back to MLS looks like a step backwards and against type. This week there were reports Bradley was on the radar of Premier League clubs Tottenham and Sunderland, making this sudden MLS rumor look all the more bizarre.
Of course, there’s the other way to look at this: many American soccer fans downgrade MLS since the best American players opt to play elsewhere. The league acquiring Bradley, less than six months after it brought Dempsey back would be a mild coup. It’s doubtful the addition of Bradley would move the tv ratings needle or anything like that, but it would be something for MLS to puff its chest out about, since an imperious, box-to-box midfielder like Bradley would be a boost to any league. Maybe Bradley relishes the challenge of helping improve MLS’ reputation?
Until the ink on the contract is dry, this one has to be looked at with a raised eyebrow. They don’t call it the “silly season” without good reason.
If this does happen, it would be among the biggest surprises in MLS history. Hey, remember the Dempsey move back to Seattle materialized similarly out of nowhere.
Something else to consider: will Bradley garner the same level of flack Landon Donovan did nearly a decade ago upon his return to MLS from Europe should this rumor actually come to fruition?
Update: sounds like this actually going happen, ESPN’s Jeffery Carlisle reports Bradley would be paid in the range of $6.5 million per year..