TFC’s Michael Bradley brushes off vocal criticism from Alexi Lalas

GM of Toronto FC Tim Bezbatchenko talks about his teams turnaround in recent years, the importance of adding Michael Bradley all those years ago and the difficulty of losing in the finals last season.

TORONTO – “The lion doesn’t care about the opinion of the sheep.”

That, in a nutshell, was Michael Bradley’s response to recent criticisms from Fox Sports commentator Alexi Lalas, who went on an epic rant last weekend blasting the U.S. national team over its less-than-stellar World Cup qualifying campaign.

The U.S. lost at home to Costa Rica and drew away to Honduras earlier this month, results that leave the Americans sitting fourth in the CONCACAF standings with two games to play. The top three teams automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the fourth-place side will be forced to play a two-match playoff against either Australia or Syria in November with a World Cup berth at stake.

A former U.S. defender with 96 caps to his credit, Lalas spoke his mind during Sunday night’s broadcast of the Seattle Sounders-LA Galaxy game, calling the American national team players “a bunch of soft, underperforming, tattooed millionaires.”

He also called out a number of players by name, including Toronto FC midfielder and U.S. captain Michael Bradley, as well as forward Jozy Altidore: “Michael Bradley. The U.S. does not need you to be ‘zen,’ the U.S. needs you to play better. Jozy Altidore. Is this really as good as it gets? Because it’s still not good enough.”

Lalas, a member of the U.S.’s 1994 World Cup, also questioned the mindset of the current national team players.

“Are you going to continue to be a bunch of soft, underperforming, tattooed millionaires? You are a soccer generation that has been given everything; you are a soccer generation who’s on the verge of squandering everything. So now it’s time to pay it back. Make us believe again. You don’t owe it to yourselves, you owe it to us,” Lalas stated.

Asked about Lalas’s comments following TFC’s practice on Wednesday, Bradley didn’t think there was any merit or validity to anything the former U.S. defender said in his rant.

“Part of being an athlete, a competitor is understanding that everybody has an opinion, especially in the world today. Everybody has a platform to fire off a hot take whenever they want. It’s life. You’re in the wrong business if that throws you off,” Bradley offered.

“You use it in the right ways, you use it as motivation. You make sure you don’t forget who the [people] along the way are who had a lot to say. One of the recent [sayings] that I’ve seen that I like is, ‘The lion doesn’t care about the opinion of the sheep.’ I’ll leave it at that. …. It’s pretty fitting.”

TFC coach Greg Vanney, a former U.S. international who played with Lalas, believes his former teammate should have gone about voicing his concerns over the current state of the U.S. team in a different way.

“Those of us who’ve played in CONCACAF [like Lalas] understand the challenges of playing in CONCACAF and qualifying [for the World Cup]. Having said that, I think he did what he wanted, which was to draw attention to himself and his media outlet,” Vanney stated.

“Otherwise, if you want to make a statement to someone, pick up the phone and call some of those guys … You have that kind of ability to do that because of your position within U.S. Soccer in the past. If you’re really upset, then call somebody and have a conversation with them. I don’t buy into the ‘make a lot of noise’ stuff. That for me is, whatever, that’s about you, it’s not about them.”

Vanney also believes Lalas didn’t offer any constructive criticisms.

“If you ask [the U.S. players], I would say they expect more of themselves. They expect that they should be in a position to qualify. They have all of the same expectations. But to just say those things is not to give solutions, it’s nothing. Our policy here [at TFC] is have solutions – just don’t call out and bark out all the problems. Have solutions, and if you don’t have solutions, don’t be the guy that sits on the sidelines and starts rambling about stuff,” Vanney explained.

“Sometimes for me it’s more than just work rate, sometimes it’s more than just ‘you got to play better.’ It’s how, why? Doing what? What are the actual solutions to this? The rest of it is just banter, nonsense. Have a real solution.”

TFC Pitchside will provide Toronto FC supporters with an inside look into their favourite obsession Monday nights at 11 pm ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. Call it an all-access pass for all things MLS brought to you by co-hosts Dan Riccio, Thomas Michalakos and producer Amil Delic. You'll hear from the biggest names around the club, and the MLS. You'll also get reviews and previews of every TFC game with reports from Pitchside at training and on game days at BMO Field. The Six is about to get done!