Michelle Kaufman: Michael Bradley’s move to MLS good and bad

01/12/2014 12:01 AM

01/12/2014 12:40 AM

Question: Is it good news or bad news for American soccer that U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, one of the top players on the Brazil-bound national team, just left Italian Serie A team Roma to join Toronto FC of Major League Soccer?

Answer: Both.

It’s great for MLS. Bringing back an American player of Bradley’s caliber after eight years abroad is a major coup and cost the league a $10 million transfer fee. The league is desperate for more credibility in the United States and abroad, so having Bradley, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on MLS rosters certainly has to help. Those are three of the most famous and gifted U.S. players, and they all have chosen to make a living in MLS.

If all three prove their worth this summer at the World Cup, the biggest international stage, it would be a nice advertisement for MLS.

Let’s face it, how will MLS ever elevate its level of play if it doesn’t attract players away from Europe? The more talented players in the league, the better the league will be.

The move is also fabulous for Bradley personally. He gets to earn a handsome seven-figure salary and be much closer to his native New Jersey, which is a bigger deal now that he is married and a father. He also signed a long-term deal, reported to be for five or six years, and he didn’t have that kind of job security at Roma.

Bradley had started only five games this season, and the recent signing of Belgian Radja Nainggolan meant there were five midfielders battling for playing time. In Toronto, Bradley will be the star and surely will play far more minutes.

But Bradley’s transfer might not be so great for the U.S. World Cup team because, no offense to Toronto or MLS, Roma is an established European team that competes for Champions League berths. The level of play and competition there is higher than what Bradley will face in our domestic league.

Despite the evolution of MLS and its much-improved quality from the early days, there is still a bit of a stigma attached to U.S. players who play here rather than in Europe. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been saying all along that he’d prefer his players compete at the highest possible level, against the best possible players, which, for now, are in Europe’s top leagues.

Unfortunately for the U.S. players, top European clubs aren’t knocking on their doors.

“There is no demand” for U.S. players, Klinsmann told ESPN.com. “It’s just a sign of reality. The demand isn’t there.”

So, Klinsmann and U.S. fans will just have to hope that Bradley’s move to Toronto, the third-worst team in MLS last season, will be a good one for him in the long run and that his happiness and increased playing time will compensate for the cutthroat, high-profile soccer he left behind in Italy.

Elsewhere

•  U.S. women in Boca Raton: The U.S. women’s national team is playing a friendly against Russia on Feb. 8 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Among the familiar names on the U.S. roster are World Cup stars Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger.

One player who might not be able to play is Alex Morgan, who injured her left ankle in training a few months ago.

“The injury is more serious than we first thought, so as much as I’d love to play, I have to make sure I get healthy,” Morgan told the Miami Herald last week.

Morgan has been keeping busy as the spokeswoman for the upcoming Copa Coca-Cola, an international 5-on-5 youth tournament that makes a stop at Miami’s Kendall Soccer Park in late February.

The tournament, played in 60 countries, is for teens aged 13 to 15. They can enter teams of five to seven players, and four players from the national-champion boys’ and girls’ teams will earn a trip to Brazil for a camp during the World Cup. Registration and information is at www.copa.coca-cola.com

“I never had these kinds of opportunities growing up, so it’s a great chance for kids to play against kids from other places and maybe get a chance to go to Brazil,” Morgan said.

Tickets for the U.S. match against Russia went on sale Friday through ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, at all Ticketmaster outlets throughout South Florida (including Walmart stores) and at the Wally Sanger Owl Club Center ticket office on the Florida Atlantic University campus.

About Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman

@kaufsports

Michelle Kaufman grew up in Miami and graduated from UM in 1987. She has worked at the St. Petersburg Times and the Detroit Free Press and has been with the Miami Herald since 1996. She has covered 13 Olympics and 6 World Cups.

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