Yesterday, news broke of the pending transfer of Michael Bradley going from Roma to Toronto FC. Instantly becoming the best player MLS has ever seen, this is obviously not the best of news for the Union. Toronto are in the Eastern Conference with the Union, the Union are sitting on their hands doing nothing of note this off-season,* and their position in the Eastern Conference continues to worsen. The last thing the Union need right now is the best player in league history to join up with a conference rival. So it goes.
*ESPN's Jeffrey Carlisle reports the Union "made a play" for Bradley, but that is more than likely a PR move designed to give appearances of doing something as opposed to an actual attempt at acquiring the midfielder's services.
But it seems like a lot of people think Bradley moving to Toronto FC is a bad move for him and a bad move for the U.S. ahead of the World Cup. Let's find out just how true that notion is.
Bradley is currently playing for Roma in Serie A, a league that is pretty much a shell of what it used to be. Between Juventus, Napoli, and A.C. Milan, only Milan managed to advance past the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, and their current domestic form is an embarrassment for them. Despite the woes of the league, Juventus, Napoli, and Fiorentina remain formidable sides in the league.
But none of that matters if Michael Bradley does not physically get on the pitch against them. Here is a list of every fixture Roma has played in Serie A this season and the number of minutes Bradley has played.
August 25 vs. Livorno: 90 minutes
September 1 vs. Verona: 18 minutes
October 27 vs. Udinese: 12 minutes
October 31 vs. Chievo: 9 minutes
November 3 vs. Torino: 90 minutes
November 10 vs. Sassuolo: 57 minutes
November 25 vs. Cagliari: 9 minutes
December 1 vs. Atalanta: 90 minutes
December 8 vs. Fiorentina: 1 minute
December 16 vs. AC Milan: 90 minutes
December 22 vs. Catania: 90 minutes
January 5 vs. Juventus: 0 minutes
Bradley has started only five games all season, and in those five games he faced teams currently placed 19th, 7th, 15th, 11th, and 20th. Every other appearance of his has been as a substitute (he came on as a 1st half sub against Sassuolo). He has played a grand total of 19 minutes out of 270 against other top 6 teams in Serie A (there is a 6 point gap between 6th and 7th place so I consider that an appropriate, if arbitrary, cut off). And now after the announcement that Roma have acquired midfielder Radja Nainggolan on loan from Cagliari, Bradley is only moving down the depth chart of the 2nd place Serie A side.
Roma were never in this year's Champions League and were never in this year's Europa League. The soonest Roma can play in European competition is after the World Cup. As is, he is playing against mostly the mid-table and relegation fodder of Serie A, and I am not convinced there is a demonstrative difference between the Serie A basement and an average MLS team. Juventus is certainly better than everything else in MLS (and Serie A), but he did not play a minute against them three days ago and he is not seeing much minutes against the only teams remotely in the same conversation with them at the top of the table.
As far as Bradley himself goes, Toronto are offering him near six times his current salary. It is difficult to blame him for wanting to make that grand leap in salary. Besides, I think Bradley knows this is a World Cup year and I think Bradley knows what is best for him ahead of the World Cup where he knows he will face the likes of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. What's best for him financially is not necessarily bad for everyone else.
Bradley is a good player barely playing. By moving to MLS he won't become a lesser quality player all of a sudden and he is going to a team that is suddenly finding itself loads of ambition in a league rapidly improving in quality. He's 26-years old. He does not have that much development left. He wants more money and he wants (and needs) to play regular minutes against non-awful competition in preparation for the World Cup. He goes from being 5th on the midfield depth chart to the best player on his team where regular minutes are certainly guaranteed. Europe does not provide that for him at the value he desires. MLS does.
Add on top of that the publicity and recognition this will get him and the league, and all in all this move appears to be a win for everyone involved: MLS, USMNT, Bradley, Bradley's playing time, Bradley's wallet, and Toronto.
Michael Bradley moving to Toronto FC: No bad outcomes, except for the Union's status in the Eastern Conference.