By David Fleenor – Michael Bradley has been the ideal professional. He is a trailblazer and role model to any young and talent player in the U.S. looking to make it with the U.S. national team and in Europe. But his decision to return to MLS is a step back in a career that has only been going up.
His success should not be that surprising. Bradley was born into a soccer family. His dad, Bob Bradley, was coaching at Princeton University when Michael was born and since has coached in MLS, for the U.S. and Egyptian national teams, and currently with Norway’s Stabæk.
The younger Bradley has made all the right decisions in his developing career. He moved to the IMG Academy in Bradenton at 15, signed with MLS at 16, and was off to Europe in 2006.
Coaches’ sons are usually known for good decision making and for the most part his time spent in Europe was brilliant. He selected teams where he could regularly make the starting XI and make an impact.
He made an immediate impact at Dutch club SC Heerenveen with 57 appearances and scoring 16 goals. His form received attention from other clubs in Europe and in 2008 he signed with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the German Bundesliga. Bradley played 76 matches and scored 10 goals for the Foals.
The first hiccup in his career came when he moved on loan to Aston Villa in English Premier League in 2011. The move did not work out with Bradley making only 3 appearances and wisely deciding to move on when manager Alex McLeish would extend his contract.
But he quickly rebounded and made his was to Italy and Chievo in Serie A. He was a fan favorite and nicknamed ‘the General’ by the Chievo faithful. His performance drew the attention and a contract from one of Italy’s top teams, AS Roma.
Bradley’s first season with AS Roma went well. His hard-working and high work-rate was ideal for a defensive midfielder while his ability to show attacking sparks was only a plus. But the rise at AS Roma came to a halt after suffering an ankle injury ahead of the U.S. MNT World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica.
The injury forced Bradley to the sideline but it is Roma’s formation and depth that is making it hard for him to escape. Roma’s coach Rudi Garcia has high praise for Bradley but his go to trio in his 4-3-3 formation is increasingly Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic with another contender in Radja Nainggolan signed over the summer.
And the time on the sideline combined with the World Cup this summer forced his hand to request a transfer.
Fulham showed interest in signing Bradley on loan but Bradley opted to return to the U.S. The MLS paid a $10 million transfer fee to AS Roma and are reportedly going to pay Bradley $6.5 million per season. Bradley will no doubt be a regular in the Toronto FC starting XI, one of the best players in MLS, a part of the league’s marketing efforts to continue to grow the game, and maybe most importantly to Bradley he and his family are back in the U.S. and closer to home.
It is hard to argue with the job security and pay that will come with him move to MLS but it is probably the first bad decision in terms of developing as a soccer player that Bradley has made in his career.
The 26-year-old could have time left to pursue his dreams of one day playing in the UEFA Champions League but for now that is on hold.
What do you think of Bradley’s move back to MLS? Do you think it is a step back for a player who could have moved on in Europe? What does this mean for the U.S. MNT?