After 250 games for Toronto FC, fire still burns at Michael Bradley
TORONTO – The day after his 250th appearance in all competitions with Toronto FC, Michael Bradley was content to look back on his eight seasons with the MLS club.
But the 34-year-old skipper has also made it clear he’s not going anywhere. Not yet anyway.
“It has been an incredible time in my career, in my life here,” he told reporters on a virtual availability from the club’s training ground on Thursday. “But again, I’m not ready to put a stop to it yet. Even in a tough year like this, I still love to play, I love to train, I love to come here every day, I love to compete.
“And (I) am desperate that we use this offseason in the right way and make sure that after two years where we’ve been hit hard by the COVID fallout in different ways, I desperately want us to use this offseason of. the right way and get things back on track so that early next year we’re ready to really get things done.
He’s not the only one who wants to put a 6-17-9 season behind him or thinks the club are better than they’ve shown this year. Toronto, which visits Atlanta on Saturday, has two more regular-season games to play and a Canadian Championship semi-final with Pacific FC next Wednesday.
Bradley was 26 when he was introduced in January 2014, alongside England striker Jermain Defoe.
“I can tell you that I have never been more excited, more determined and more motivated for any challenge in my entire career,” the former Roma midfielder said at a press conference featuring fans singing, watching from the top of the hangar balcony. Real Sports Bar & Grill, now known as Real Sports.
The MLS club had parked a double-decker bus outside the site and mounted an advertising campaign around Defoe’s arrival, showing a variety of Brits spitting their drinks in astonishment after hearing the news – “Jermain Defoe arrives at Toronto. It’s a hell of a big deal.
But while the former Tottenham striker has proven to be the sizzle, only lasting one season, Bradley has been the steak from day one.
The former U.S. captain has appeared in 206 of Toronto’s 259 regular season games since joining the club. During that time, he played 18,196 minutes, participating in 78% of TFC’s on-field actions.
In 2017, when Toronto won the MLS Cup, Fan Shield and Canadian Championship, Bradley played every minute of the 35 regular season and playoff games he played.
He had been the club’s Energizer bunny, rarely inactive. And when he went under the knife – in January 2020 to repair damage suffered in the 2019 MLS Cup final loss to Seattle, much of his recovery time was during the hiatus caused by the league.
Under Javier Perez, Bradley has seen more measured minutes this season. Perez rested Bradley and replaced him, citing the need to field an energetic new formation “regardless of the player and the importance of that player”.
“Michael is the team captain and the team leader. But we want Michael 100 percent. We don’t want Michael 65% or 70% of the time, ”Perez said in early September.
While Bradley is never confused with Usain Bolt, he can cover short distances quickly and has enough common sense to know where he should be – although both have been tested in recent outings covering the center back. Bradley is also an accurate passer with good vision.
But he can cast the biggest shadow on the pitch where his dynamism and determination have helped forge the character of a club he has helped transform from doormat to champion. Toronto had just finished a 6-17-11 season, had never made the playoffs and had a career record of 51-105-66 upon arrival.
He has since risen to 102-94-63 with the club’s considerably fuller trophy case.
“I am proud to wear these colors. I am proud to call Toronto home, ”said Bradley. “I am proud to have played a role in the history of this club. And I hope more than anything that there will be more special days to come.
Bradley is worth watching in pre-game warm-ups. He is usually found urging his teammate next to him, seeking to share what feeds him.
Better than they listen. This is not a man you want to meet, as some journalists have discovered. While still in control, his eyes can burn a hole in you.
A product of the US Under-17 Residency Program, Bradley turned pro at 16 and was drafted 36th overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by the MetroStars, then coached by his father Bob Bradley.
After a season in MLS he went to Heerenveen in the Netherlands and then to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany in 2008. After a brief loan spell with the Aston Villa in England he moved to Italy – first with Chievo Verona in 2011 then Rome in 2012.
Then MLSE boss Tim Leiweke spent the money to land Bradley and Defoe, with transfer fees of around $ 10 million each, not to mention the seven-figure salaries.
At the time, Bradley said he was drawn to the team’s ambition, drive and determination to make a difference. “As a player you want to be a part of something special like that.”
When asked on Thursday if anyone tried to talk him out of leaving the green pastures of European football to return to MLS with Toronto, Bradley replied: “No one close to me.”
“I keep my circle fairly fair in this regard,” he added. “I’m not someone who feels the need to run things by a million people. The relatives I confide in, the relatives whose opinions I appreciate and respect, they all know me. They know how much thought it took to make such a decision. And they knew how excited I was, how motivated I was.
“Obviously on the outside, then and probably still to this day, there are people who think I’m crazy or that I made the wrong decision. And that’s good too.
Toronto turned out to be a lucrative stop.
Bradley signed a six-year, $ 39 million contract to come to the club. In December 2019. He got a big discount in his hometown, accepting a three-year contract, plus a club option, which earns him $ 1.5 million this season.
“He’s our engine,” then club president Bill Manning said.
Bradley said money was not a driving force at this point in his career. “Playing here, winning here means more,” he said when announcing the new contract.
Taking a reduced salary with the help of a targeted allowance opened up a designated player window, now occupied by Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo.
Off the pitch, Bradley has been a model citizen.
Bradley and his family – he is married with two young children – have also found a home in Toronto where he lives year round.
“The club has real relevance to the city and this part is special.” he said.
Used to living in a football fishbowl, Bradley says the interaction with fans here is “always done in such a kind and respectful way.”
“A big part of why we all do this and a big part of what makes it so special is that our fans and the people of the city feel something, feel proud. To be able to see the connection we make with people… you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Perez, who worked with Bradley when he coached with US Soccer, underlines the commitment, dedication and leadership of his captain.
“Hopefully he can stick with us for another 250 games,” he said after Bradley’s defining night on Wednesday in a 2-2 draw with Philadelphia.
Bradley, who joins Jonathan Osorio (289 games) and Justin Morrow (251) in the TFC club at 25o games, says he has not yet thought about hanging up his boots.
“You get to a certain point in your career and you take it one at a time – one game at a time, one week at a time, one season at a time. And so that’s where I am. I love to play, I love what I do. I don’t forget how lucky I am to do this for a living. And I like it. I love him as much as when I started.
“I still enjoy every part of it. I am not naive either. I know the end is definitely closer than the start, that’s for sure. But I feel good. I will continue to surpass myself, train the right way, work the right way, live the right way so that I can always play at a high level that helps the team.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 28, 2021.
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