Just for fun, think back to the 2013 Major League Soccer All-Star game.
The match was played in late July, at the home of Sporting Kansas City, against the side that would sell Michael Bradley to the North American top flight just over five months later.
Bradley, as it happened, played the full 90 minutes for AS Roma on the evening of his 26th birthday (he was one of just six Giallorossi players to do so) and generally ran the Serie A side’s midfield until the introduction of Daniele De Rossi in the 63rd minute.
Five minutes later—released by De Rossi’s introduction to move further up-field—he threaded a no-look pass between the two opposing defenders to teammate Kevin Strootman, who in turn found Junior Tallo for Roma’s third goal of their 3-1 win in Kansas City.
“It’s a special night, for sure,” Bradley remarked after the match. “As you look at it, soccer in this country is continuing to grow. The growth of MLS...shows we’re moving in the right direction.”
He added: “The future is very bright.”
Bradley misplaced just one of his 59 passes that night at Sporting Park, and he made three interceptions and won five tackles on the defensive side of the ball (all statistics provided by MLS).
Lacking match-fitness and operating alongside a brand new teammate in Strootman, he may just as well have dominated the MLS All-Stars in his sleep.
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Bradley’s career path has rarely been typical.
Indeed, given both his talent and the influence of his father—newly-appointed Stabaek manager Bob Bradley—his has been a journey marked by plenty of firsts and the odd bit of privilege.
As a 16-year-old he was jettisoned into the 2004 MLS SuperDraft as part that year’s underage crop that also included Freddy Adu and Clint Dempsey. The MetroStars, under the management of his father, selected him, and after a breakout 2005 season he became the youngest MLS player to complete a European transfer when he was acquired by Heerenveen.
It was at the Dutch outfit that Bradley’s offensive instincts began to pay off in goals, and near the end of his first season at the club he was handed his first start for the United States by his father, who had succeeded Bruce Arena as national team manager.
A year later he became the latest in a string of players sold by the Friesland side to Borussia Monchengladbach when he sanctioned a €2.5 million switch to the five-time German champions—a transaction that kick-started the decision-making process that would eventually result in his move to Toronto FC.
But Bradley, as it turned out, had never intended to play in Germany.
In actuality it was the Premier League he had designs on, but after agreeing a pre-contract with Birmingham City he wriggled out of the deal through a clause that allowed him to go back on the market in the event the Blues were relegated from the English top flight.
And so it was at Borussia-Park that Bradley landed, although shortly after Michael Frontzeck’s appointment as manager in 2009 he clashed with the club icon over playing time and was issued a suspension.
The following season he joined Aston Villa on loan, but after failing to catch the fancy of manager Alex McLeish was allowed to leave the club during the summer. Borussia Monchengladbach then sold him to Chievo Verona, recouping less than half the money they had spent in acquiring him.
Bradley’s standout campaign at Chievo catapulted him back into the consciousness of some big clubs, and in July 2012 he joined AS Roma for €3.75 million.
His one, full season in the Italian capital was impressive, although not spectacular, and after spending a month out injured to begin the season he went on to start 24 matches in a team that finished sixth in Serie A.
But the acquisitions of some new players, including Strootman, as well as the return to full fitness of De Rossi combined to raise an old irritant, and in a conversation with Italian radio last week Bradley’s agent confirmed a lack of playing time this season had at least contributed to his client’s decision to leave the Stadio Olimpico.
No doubt his head had also been turned by the wage packet on offer.
At Toronto FC Bradley will earn a reported $6.5 million (US) per season—more than former teammate and World Cup winner Francesco Totti, and a sum that would make him the fourth-highest earner in Serie A, behind De Rossi, Gonzalo Higuain and Diego Milito. (He will be out-earning the likes of Esteban Cambiasso, Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Gianluigi Buffon.)
He will also be guaranteed regular, first-team football upon arrival at BMO Field, and his combination of organizational sense and cautious passing will instantly make him the club’s best player in its brief history.
Of course, his decision has been accompanied by some very obvious questions.
“Can MLS actually contribute to his further development?”
“How will playing in Toronto impact his performances for the United States?”
Only time will provide the answers, but at this stage of his career—and no matter what anyone thinks—Michael Bradley has tied his fate to MLS.
He has, after all, always done things his own way.
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.