The USA star is reportedly on his way back to Major League Soccer, leaving behind one of Europe's top teams in 2013-14.For Michael Bradley and American soccer, it could be a case of “be careful what you wished for.”
American supporters want their players to test themselves at the highest level, steadily improving as they climb the rungs of the European ladder. All of this will hopefully lead to the ever-elusive and still yet unrealized First American Superstar – that player who stars for one of the world's biggest clubs and is truly considered one of the planet's best.
And yet, getting to that level isn't going to happen overnight, and won't come without its rough patches. That much seems obvious, but at the first sign of adversity in his Serie A career, Bradley is seemingly jumping ship. And it's a shocker.
According to ESPN's Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas, and corroborated by Goal Canada's Rudi Schuller, Bradley is on the verge of joining Toronto FC, spurning interest from several European teams.
Bradley pushed himself to transfer to and eventually earn a starting role for one of Europe's biggest clubs, and has now apparently opted for what can objectively be called a backwards move. It's hard to see how these two decisions could have come from the same person.
Roma's acquisition of Radja Nainggolan from Cagliari on Tuesday added more competition for playing time in the midfield. At a big club, it was no less than inevitable.
There is, of course, a catch that comes with being at a club like Roma: it has good players. Sometimes, even though the club already has good players, it adds more good players, resulting in a highly regarded cog like Bradley having to fight for a spot in the team.
And it could have been a good thing.
Rare is the player at an important team who hasn't had to fight for his spot at some point. Even Roma legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi have seen their starting positions taken away at various points in the last few years. If Bradley was able to fight through this patch, he would have been be better off for it. If his playing time decreased further, he could have always left in the summer, especially after playing in the World Cup -- AKA the world's largest shop window.
Many will say Bradley needs to be playing every game leading up to Brazil, but the idea that playing sporadically for a few months will put his World Cup form in peril is dubious, given that he'll have a month to get into the swing of things with the USA before playing a game in Brazil.
Bradley was never going to be that First American Superstar, but he is the best player the United States has to offer at the moment, and plays for the best club out of any of his compatriots. Roma is currently second in Serie A, filled with world-class performers, and looking an odds-on favorite to finish in the top three and secure a Champions League place for next season.
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Bradley started 24 games in the league for Roma last season, coming off the bench just six times, but the Giallorossi finished sixth and missed out on Europe entirely.
Not much was expected of Roma this season, as the club lost key performers Marquinhos, Erik Lamela and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. However, new coach Rudi Garcia and shrewd buys like Mehdi Benatia and Kevin Strootman have seen Roma off to a flying start, with a 12-1-5 record in Serie A.
The arrival of Strootman and injury issues have seen Bradley's playing time decrease in the 2013-14 campaign, with just five starts and six substitute appearances to his name. The lack of playing time put several clubs across Europe on high alert, with Premier League teams, Italian clubs, and Bayer Leverkusen said to be interested.
Rather than stay and fight, however, Bradley is seemingly ready to move to Canada, where a guaranteed starting spot every week awaits.
Of course, the deal is great for MLS but for American soccer in general, it's a bit disheartening. Bradley is no Clint Dempsey – a player who already had played out his best years in Europe when he moved to the Seattle Sounders this summer. Bradley is 26, and a successful fight for playing time could have seen him reach the rarefied air (for an American) of a Champions League starter on a team with a chance to actually go far in the tournament.
The midfielder has reached heights that very few Americans have ever seen. Forget starting, simply being on the roster of one of Europe's most storied teams is an accomplishment few of Bradley's contemporaries will ever come close to achieving. And now, he's leaving it all behind.
Bradley is free to make his own choices and perhaps the lifestyle in Toronto, coupled with a giant paycheck, is appealing enough to get him back in North America. If this is what he truly wants, then he shouldn't worry about what outsiders think.
Still, it's hard not to view this move as a missed opportunity. MLS is growing, but at present moment, it can't touch the heights of the options that were available to Bradley. In three or four years, he may look back and wonder why he ever wished for this.
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