TORONTO — After a season of silence on Michael Bradley’s contract, Toronto FC is looking to move fast to ensure its influential captain stays put.
Both Bradley and the Toronto front office refused to discuss his contract status during the MLS season. Bradley said he didn’t want it become a distraction, with the club respecting his wishes.
Now it appears the wheels are turning fast, with GM Ali Curtis given his marching orders.
"I told Ali (Tuesday) … ‘Let’s close it in the next week or so,"’ team president Bill Manning told reporters at the club’s wrapup media session Wednesday in the wake of Sunday’s 3-1 MLS Cup final loss to Seattle. "So I think we’re in a good place. Certainly there’s a desire on both sides. We just have some small things that we’re trying to work out."
It sounds like the team may be able to retain the 32-year-old midfielder without using the designated player spot he currently occupies.
"I think we can work something out," said Manning, without going into details.
"I think everything is kind of on the table," added Curtis. "We’re trying to improve the team in all ways."
"In the universe before he came here (in January 2014), he was definitely going to be a designated player," Curtis added of Bradley. "I think now there’s a conversation where he would not be a designated player."
Freeing up a DP space would allows the club more latitude in signing a forward to complement Jozy Altidore.
Bradley’s existing US$39-million, six-year contract expires at the end of the year. He made $6.5 million this season, second-highest in the league behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s $7.2 million.
Bradley suggested he has some good years left in him — and that there is more to a new contract than just dollars.
"I’m confident there’s a deal to find," he said. "The money, the contract itself, while always important, that’s not the driving force here, in any way. I came here for something way bigger than that and the reasons for me wanting to stay are way bigger than that."
Current rules allow for team to have as many as three designated players, who each count the maximum salary budget charge ($530,000) no matter how much they are paid. The level below that involves targeted allocation money, with a maximum annual salary of $1.5 million.
Defender Omar Gonzalez was signed in July using TAM. His full salary for the year is listed at $1.19 million.
Bradley is an important domino to fall. Right now he is one of the team’s three designated players, along with Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo.
But he is also seen as the driving force in the team’s culture, which has gone from league doormat to perennial contender.
"He brings it every day. He’s the utmost professional … He’s a guy that I hope can be here when he retires," said Manning.
"He’s our engine," he added.
Coach Greg Vanney said Bradley plays "a massive role" in the club.
"There a lot of people around here who take notice of how he come to work every day and the intensity he brings, the work rate that he brings, the passion for everything he does on the field, off the field. The attention to detail. There’s a lot of guys who see that in that locker-room and have, for me, because real pros as a product of watching and seeing how Michael works."
Bradley said there have been "some good discussions" between his agent and the team. And while he said there is nothing new to report, there were talks as recent as Tuesday with more planned.
"I’ve said from the beginning that I’m optimistic. I love it here," he said. "I feel so attached to the city, to the club, to the team. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do, of the success that we’ve had. But beyond the success, I’m so proud of the mentality and the identity that I think the club has taken on."
He did not address a report that a win in Sunday’s MLS Cup final would have triggered another year at $6.5 million. That became moot when Toronto lost 3-1 to Seattle.
Bradley talked for almost 45 minutes at the team’s media wrapup-up session, sounding like a player happy with where he’s at.
"From my standpoint, the hope has always been to be here and to be here for a long time. I think the foundation has been laid in a good way and I want more," he said
Bradley injured his ankle in the 32nd minute Sunday when Roman Torres, attempting a shot, caught the Toronto player in the ankle with his follow-through. The injury forced him to withdraw from the U.S. squad for CONCACAF Nations League games against Canada and Cuba.
An MRI was planned for later Wednesday.
"It’s fine," said Bradley, estimating the ankle might take two to three weeks "to calm down."