At first glance, the 26-year-old’s decision to swap AS Roma for the Major League Soccer outfit appears a significant, backward step in his career trajectory—a transplant unlikely to do either himself or USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann any good.
Why on earth, the thinking goes, would a midfielder in the prime of his career—and still improving—exchange the second-best team in Serie A for the laughing-stock of the North American top flight?
On Thursday, his agent shed some light on the factors that influenced the choice.
“At Roma [Bradley] never felt like an important player for the team,” Alberto Faccini told Radio Radio, as reported by Goal. Faccini also remarked that Roma’s recent acquisition of Radja Nainggolan played a part in the decision-making process.
What’s certain is that Bradley, a combative midfielder with an eye for playmaking (in 11 matches for the Giallorossi this season, he completed 92 percent of his passes, according to Squawka), will walk straight into the Toronto setup and immediately become the club’s best player.
"Michael did this choice and Toronto in just two days have closed the deal." - Bradley's agent, to Italian radio. #TFC— Rudi Schuller (@RudiSchuller) January 9, 2014
He’ll have the chance to play every minute of every match for a side that finished second-from-bottom in the Eastern Conference last term, and as Faccini suggested, he is already relishing the prospect of a “very important project” in Canada’s largest city.
But are regular minutes at a mediocre club embarking on yet another rebuild actually more beneficial than a role, however part-time, in one of Europe’s most glittering capitals?
This is the question posed by the second school—a conundrum that is no doubt playing through Klinsmann's mind as we speak.
In a November interview ahead of the United States’ friendly encounter with Scotland in Glasgow, the German revealed his preference that American players play at the highest level available to them, even if loan deals were required to facilitate his wishes.
“If a player has the opportunity to go on loan, you’ve got to go for it,” he told USSoccer.com, adding, “You’re in real competition; you’re in a real competitive environment; you’ve got to have a point to prove and kick-start 2014 that way.”
Bradley’s 2014 kick-start would seem to be precisely the opposite of what Klinsmann intended when he made those remarks, when he also stated his desire that MLS-based players leave the continent from January thru March—not return to it.
“If that is not possible, you have to be with us in January camp,” he continued. “That is mandatory.”
Two words re Michael Bradley. Playing Time. He needs it, #USMNT needs it. Wasn't getting enough in congested Roma midfield.— Adrian Healey (@AdrianHealey) January 8, 2014
The USMNT camp is already underway in Los Angeles, and with Bradley expected to be a Toronto player by Monday it follows that Klinsmann will be anticipating his arrival.
From there Bradley’s journey will take him to Toronto’s preseason training base in Bradenton, Florida, and he’ll see his first MLS regular-season action since his 2005 move from MetroStars to Heerenveen when his new side visits Seattle Sounders on March 15.
Ahead of the 2014 campaign, Toronto have already acquired Dallas midfielder Jackson, DC United attacker Dwayne De Rosario and Internacional striker Gilberto. On Monday it’s expected they’ll officially announce the arrival of Tottenham forward Jermain Defoe.
According to the Toronto Star, the Defoe and Bradley additions alone will see the club spend more than $100 million on transfer fees and salary.
Toronto will almost certainly get its money’s worth out of Bradley, but with a World Cup barely five months off, it’s questionable whether the United States will similarly benefit.