COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Michael Bradley speaks, people listen.
Toronto FC’s captain is not the type to rant and rave, or make a spectacle of himself when he’s trying to make a point. Bradley’s approach is far more measured – even keeled and thoughtful, he speaks simply and plainly, and chooses his words carefully, always managing to get the point across in a forceful way without so much as raising his voice.
When Bradley has something to say, he makes himself heard. One such moment came when he penned an open letter to TFC fans in early October, explaining why winning the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy given to the team that finishes the MLS regular season with the most points, was so important. Winning the Shield, Bradley noted, was part of a larger philosophical shift within the entire organization after the Reds suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Sounders in last year’s MLS Cup final.
“When we sat down as a group early in pre-season this year, we talked about this idea of being different,” Toronto’s captain wrote.
“The loss in the final was still clearly on everyone’s mind, but we understood that the only way to ever give ourselves a chance at redemption was to play 90 minutes at a time, for 34 games. Go after every game with the same mentality that we played with during the second half of last season.”
The entire letter, and that passage in particular, struck a chord within TFC’s fan base, as supporters in the south end of BMO Field unfurled a massive banner honouring Bradley prior to kickoff of the next home game that read, “Redemption: 90 minutes at a time.”
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco garner the majority of the headlines with their goal-scoring prowess, and newcomer Victor Vazquez’s playmaking ability has elevated TFC to another level. But make no mistake about it: Bradley sets the tone at the club. As he goes, so goes Toronto FC. Bradley’s words carry a lot of weight – not just with the fan base, but also with his teammates.
And they mean even more now with Toronto set to take on the Columbus Crew on Tuesday night in Ohio in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final.
“Michael is our emotional, our technical, tactical leader. He does a lot for the club on and off the field. Part of that is his voice. He commands a big presence on the field,” defender Justin Morrow told Sportsnet.
“He’s always talking to his teammates, whether that’s conversations before the games about things we need to take care of, conversation on the practice field of how we can do things better, conversations during the game about things we need to change on the fly. His voice is massive.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Nick Hagglund, who calls Bradley “the heartbeat of our team.” The young defender explained that Bradley has garnered the respect of his teammates by holding them accountable and expecting the same commitment that he expects from himself at all times. Bradley has also earned the trust of the entire TFC locker-room.
“He’s our captain. We follow him wherever he wants to take us. We trust everything that he says. Everything that he says is huge,” Hagglund said.
“He knows what it takes to be a winner and I think everybody sees that and respects that. His determination, his heart and leadership are amazing. For us, whatever he says it’s something we have to follow.”
Getting a young player such as Hagglund to heed your words is one thing. It’s quite another for Bradley to convince a veteran such as Drew Moor to follow his lead. Moor has far more MLS experience than Bradley, having played in over 360 regular season games and has won an MLS Cup in his 13 years in the league.
But like his younger teammates, Moor has no qualms about taking directions from his captain.
“Everybody knows Michael’s experience and knows what he’s been through, both internationally and domestically. When he talks in the locker-room, in video sessions, in the meal room, wherever we are, everybody listens,” Moor stated.
“His words to the fans are very similar to the kind of stuff that he motivates his teammates with as well. There’s been times since I’ve been here when there’s been an opportunity for him to make a speech or share some words, and anytime he does it, it means a lot to the players.”
Bradley’s influence at TFC goes well beyond the pre-game pep talk, or what he says on the training ground. His imprint is far greater than that, with his influence reaching the upper echelons of power at MLSE.
“When he came to Toronto, his message to this organization was that he wanted [TFC] to compete for championships year in and year out. And not just with his words, but also with his actions, and the ways he speaks with the front office, he’s a big part of what this club is where it as right now,” Moor said.
“He’s everything you want in a captain, and his words are huge.”
NOTES: Giovinco and Altidore are suspended for Tuesday’s first leg in Columbus. They are eligible to return for the second leg on Nov. 29 at BMO Field… Toronto topped the Eastern Conference and the overall MLS standings with a 20-5-9 record and a league-record 69 points. Columbus (16-12-6) finished fifth in the East, 15 points adrift of Toronto… The Crew did, however, hand TFC one of its five losses this season, earning a 2-1 home win on April 15. The Reds returned to Ohio the following month and beat the Crew 2-1, and then hammered Columbus 5-0 on May 26 in the final match of the campaign between the two sides… This Eastern Conference final marks the first playoff encounter between TFC and the Crew.