TORONTO – There is a reason why the press horde congregates around Michael Bradley’s locker-room stall after home games, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s Toronto FC captain.
Bradley is usually the last player to emerge from the showers, which means impatient reporters are constantly looking at their watches as their deadlines draw closer. But TFC’s captain is always worth the wait, not because he’s a pretty good quote—well, he is—but because he tends to tell it like it is and lay the truth bare.
Bradley does so without a trace of hyperbole. Always measured, the midfielder speaks plainly and with very little emotion. He displays the same steely discipline and concentration he’s noted for on the pitch when dealing with the media. You’re not going to get bold statements from the American international. No calling out of refs, opponents or teammates. You also won’t hear him bemoan a loss or celebrate a win to any great degree.
What Bradley does offer is a thoughtful and concise dissection of the game, with a knack for putting the result within the greater (and proper) context. That might not sound very sexy. It doesn’t necessarily make for sparkling news copy, or lend itself towards attention-grabbing headlines. But that’s precisely the point.
Bradley understands, perhaps better than any athlete in this city, that, clichéd as it may sound, this is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Losses and dropped points early in the season, while disappointing, are not devastating. And while reporters and fans are prone to make much out of one game or a string of results—such is the 24-hour, instant analysis, rush to judgement, social-media driven, information age that we live in—Bradley is different. He always sees the big picture, and in doing so he remains the reference point and the anchor of Toronto FC both on and off the pitch.
A 2-2 draw on Saturday night against expansion club Atlanta United FC was particularly frustrating. Defensive miscues resulted in two goals by the visitors on the same night that forward Sebastian Giovinco finally scored, and the Reds’ potent attack was especially dangerous and dynamic.
All of this made for straw to be spun into a golden narrative about all the good work by the attacking players being completely undone by the guys at the back. Bradley, though, was having none of it.
“At times you guys [the media] try to break things down in a way where if we tie 0-0 then the defensive players played great and the attacking players were terrible, and then on a night like tonight it’s the other way around,” Bradley said.
“When we look at it, we look at it in a more complete way. We look at it within the context of the bigger picture, which is how did the team play? Are we imposing ourselves on [opponents] the way we want to? How can we improve every little detail?”
On paper, TFC’s start to the 2017 MLS campaign hasn’t been ideal. With four draws, the Reds appear to be stuck in a rut, unable to get over the hump in terms of turning stalemates into victories.
Their record is deceiving, though. The scoring chances have been there—they just haven’t been converted. With three clean sheets to their credit, TFC has a solid defensive foundation in place, Saturday’s effort notwithstanding. What’s more, the Reds have never in franchise history been unbeaten through the first five games of the season.
There are plenty of positives. Room for improvement? Of course. But it’s still early in the campaign, and you can’t draw definitive conclusions or point to troubling patterns just yet because the sample size is simply too small. It was a point that was perfectly articulated by the club’s captain and voice of reason.
“We probably don’t have all the points to show for it, but if we can continue to put more performances like we did for large stretches tonight, we’re going to be in a good spot. At the moment, the main thing is just understanding that it’s a long season. We want to be honest with ourselves in terms of things that can [improve], but we’ve had some good moments and we like the fact that we’re still unbeaten. That’s important to us,” Bradley offered.