Rudi Schuller: Bradley settling into leadership role at TFC

The 26-year-old U.S. international has quickly become the face of Toronto FC, which he says suits him just fine.
TORONTO -- It's been a whirlwind month for Michael Bradley.

In the past four weeks, the American midfielder has gone from surplus at Roma to being one of the faces of a resurgent Toronto FC franchise, and only now is he starting to get a feel for the place that will be his home for the next six seasons.

"It's amazing," Bradley said of the recently-built Kia Training Ground in north Toronto, a $17 million facility that has few equals in North American soccer. "A few of us, this morning at breakfast, were sitting there and just kind of saying what a setup this is. Coming here every day, obviously we've been gone for preseason but now to be back for a week and to kind of start to get into a routine of coming in here every day and what that's like, it's amazing.

"On my end, I couldn't be more excited about where things are, I thought the first two weeks of preseason down in Florida went great, with a lot of good work, and now it's a few days here and then back down to Florida for another important stretch."

Bradley spoke to reporters at a preseason media event earlier this week, and the 26-year-old drew by far the biggest crowd among the 20 or so TFC players that were trotted out before the cameras. It's a role that's somewhat new to him, as most of his club career before joining Toronto has consisted of Bradley being a highly talented part of a bigger picture rather than him being one of the stars.

He seems to be relishing the bigger role so far.

"I'm excited about it, that's why I'm here," he explained. "Obviously, the thing about being a leader is it starts with how you play, and so you can talk about about being a leader but the most important thing is leading by example first."

The thing about being a leader is it starts with how you play, and so you can talk about about being a leader but the most important thing is leading by example first."

- Toronto FC and U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley

Aside from his own increased responsibility as one of the more recognizable faces of Major League Soccer, Bradley said that he came to Toronto to help establish TFC as one of the leading clubs in the league. He's repeatedly spoken of the big 'project' that team owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment enticed him to be a part of; one that aims to bring a buzz back to BMO Field after seven losing seasons.

It's clear that Bradley is on board with the team's rather ambitious plan, and he said that the feeling is spreading throughout TFC's locker room.

"We're excited about it," the U.S. international said. "The new signings, the money that MLSE have spent, the pressure, the expectations, this is why we do this."

The more he talks about the heightened expectation that comes with the big money moves that TFC has made over the offseason, the more eager Bradley seems to get. 

"The chance to walk out into sold out stadiums and play with the pressure to win games, to eventually win trophies, that's exciting," he said. "There's a commitment and there's a determination in every guy here to now forget about everything that's happened in the past here and now let this be the start of something new.

"Obviously it's easy to talk about, and we all know that there's going to be ups and downs along the way, but the pressure that now is going to come along with playing for Toronto FC is something that every person here is going to embrace." 

Part of that pressure comes from Bradley's home nation, where some pundits, executives, and fans alike have questioned the financial outlay that Toronto has made to bring him back to MLS in the prime of his career. A $10 million transfer fee, confirmed by Roma early in January, coupled with a reported annual salary north of $6 million has put a very big target on the New Jersey native's back. 

"Everybody's going to have their own opinion," Bradley said. "I think it's great that now we're to the point with the growth of soccer in North America where now a decision like mine to come to Toronto, to come back to MLS, can elicit such a wide variety of responses and opinions.

"For me, I think that's great, I love that now there's so much passion and so much excitement and so much attention for our game that now we're to that point, but at the same time it doesn't bother me. As a professional you have to have thick skin."

In the end, it's the people that matter most to him who backed his decision, which Bradley said made the groundbreaking move an easy one.

"My family and my close friends are all excited for me," he said. "They know what went into the decision for me, they understand what I'm about as a player, as a person. They understand what went into this for me, the way I thought through it all, and now for me the opportunity to come here at this club and really take a big role in trying to help build something.

"That's why I'm here."