TORONTO – Michael Bradley has a well-earned reputation for saying what he means and meaning what he says.
A lot of athletes are often guarded when speaking to reporters, careful in the way they craft a message or narrative they want to get across to the public. Toronto FC’s captain doesn’t do that.
That’s not to say Bradley shoots his mouth off or speaks without first thinking about what he says – far from it. But, while the veteran midfielder is known for carefully selecting the words he uses when speaking to reporters, it’s done out of a desire to properly articulate his point.
When Bradley speaks, members of the media intently listen because he’s not afraid to speak his mind and lay the truth bare. Such was the case almost two weeks ago following TFC’s 4-2 home loss to LAFC, a result that served as a crushing blow to their fading hopes of making the playoffs.
After the game, without much prodding from reporters, Bradley offered a blunt and sobering critique of the Reds’ season to date in which he questioned both the team’s mentality and commitment “to double down” after its historic 2017 campaign.
“You run out of things to say. For me, it’s very simple. We have an incredible year last year, but [Concacaf] Champions League aside, this year we have not had enough people in this club from the top to all the way down to the bottom, and everybody is included – we have not had enough people who have understood how hard it was going to be, what it was going to take to navigate through another season where we had to play every week like our lives depended on it,” Bradley explained.
“Last year, that was the mentality. Last year, that’s what we were able to do. But when you win everything like we did, then you have to understand to come back and do it again it’s going to be even harder. Through 27 [MLS] games this year, it’s not even been close. Not even close.”
It was a stinging, bare-knuckled rebuke of how Toronto had gone from MLS Cup champs to playoff pretender in the span of only nine months – the kind of criticism that reporters absolutely love (let’s not kid ourselves, it makes for great copy), but don’t get to hear too often from athletes who are afraid to make waves by talking out of turn.
While this correspondent appreciated Bradley’s honesty, it did raise questions as to whether TFC’s captain should have kept his views to himself, or at the very least keep them in house, rather than offer them up for media consumption.
That’s not Bradley’s way, though, and at least one teammate, veteran defender Drew Moor, doesn’t have a problem with how the TFC captain spoke out in such an unvarnished fashion.
“I think we were all frustrated after that loss. … There was probably some frustration with Mike about that. I know he was frustrated, and I was frustrated. We all were,” Moor told Sportsnet.
He later added: “Mike says amongst us as a group what he says publicly. He’s the captain and the leader, so we always know what he’s thinking because he lets us know. If it’s not good enough, he’s going to let us know that it’s not good enough, and I’ve said it publicly that it’s not been good enough this season.”
If anybody knows where Bradley is coming from, it’s Moor. Now in his 14th season and with 391 games under his belt, the 34-year-old Dallas native has seen, heard and experienced it all in this league – including serving as captain during his time with FC Dallas.
Teammates with Bradley since signing with Toronto as a free agent ahead of the 2016 season, Moor says the midfielder is the kind of captain “that teams need because he makes everybody around him better, both on and off the field.”
Moor has also been impressed with Bradley’s attention to detail and the meticulous way he goes about his day-to-day business on the training pitch and on gamedays.
“He dots every i, crosses every t. …. As a former captain in this league, I thought I was a good captain, and then I came here and realized I could have been a lot better. To have him leading us, we’re a pretty lucky group,” Moor said.
Toronto will need both Bradley and Moor to lead the way for the rest of the season, starting with this weekend’s home game against the LA Galaxy. The Reds enter Saturday’s contest nine points and three spots out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. With only seven games left on the schedule, the margin of error is paper thin for the reigning MLS Cup champs.
“We’re not out of it. [The loss to LAFC means it’s] a bigger hole we have to dig ourselves out of, and we have to make sure to give ourselves every fighting chance,” Moor said.