Posted January 10, 2014

Mailbag: Bradley-to-Toronto FC, U.S. national team and more

Bob Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Colorado Rapids, English Premier League, Grant Wahl, Jurgen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Manchester City, Manchester United, Michael Bradley, MLS, Qatar, Toronto FC, U.S. men's national team, U.S. Soccer

Michael Bradley

U.S. national team star Michael Bradley appears poised for a move to Toronto FC. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

It’s time to open the mailbag, and there is lots to talk about, so let’s dive right in:

Do you think Michael Bradley should move from Roma to Toronto FC?


The move of Bradley, the U.S. national team’s most indispensable player, from Roma to Toronto is all but official, and it’s a stunner, to say the least. Bradley is still just 26, and he has always talked about wanting to play at the highest levels of European club soccer. But significant playing time wasn’t going to come easy for Bradley at Roma ahead of the World Cup, and Toronto is throwing around crazy money these days in its pursuit of Bradley and Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe.

Reports from respected outlets vary widely on how much Bradley would earn with Toronto. If it’s the $1 million annual salary we’re seeing in Italian reports, I would say it’s not a good move for Bradley. If it’s closer to the  $6.5 million we’re seeing in U.S. reports — and I believe it’s probably closer to that — then a four-year guaranteed contract would make Bradley and his family set for life financially. You can’t ignore that.

Bradley’s move is obviously good for Toronto, probably the least successful franchise in MLS history, and good for MLS, which is showing that it can land the top U.S. players in their prime these days. Whether it’s good for the U.S. national team is a different question. Granted, Landon Donovan had a good World Cup 2010, and playing in MLS didn’t prevent that. Nor do I expect the highly professional Bradley to suddenly stop performing well just because he left Italy for Toronto.

But U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has every right to be concerned about the moves of Clint Dempsey and Bradley back to MLS at a time when Klinsmann has said he wants his players challenging themselves at the highest possible club level. With Bradley’s transfer it’s likely that seven of the U.S. starters in Brazil will be MLS players: Bradley, Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Donovan and Dempsey. If the unsettled Jermaine Jones moves to MLS as well, that would mean eight.

In the space of five months, the Dempsey and Bradley deals have completely changed our expectations of MLS and what the league will pay to land the best American players. Keep in mind, transfer fees of close to eight figures were needed to land each player, and in the past MLS teams rarely paid transfer fees for any big-name signings, not even David Beckham or Thierry Henry.

Where is the money for these transfer fees coming from? Look no further than the $150 million stake that Providence Equity Partners purchased in MLS’s marketing arm two years ago. Instead of pocketing the money to cover previous losses, MLS owners decided to reinvest that money in the league, including in a pool that would go to help pay such transfer fees.

When it comes to salaries, Seattle (with Dempsey) and Toronto (with Bradley) are paying well above market value. That’s great for the players’ wallets, but is it good for MLS in the long term? Well, money talks. If MLS wants these players, this is what you’ll have to pay. But there’s a real risk here: If the U.S. underperforms at the World Cup, you can be certain these moves from Europe to MLS will be cited as part of the problem. And if the U.S. exceeds expectations in Brazil? You can bet that not many will actually give credit to MLS. Life isn’t always fair, I guess.

What are your initial thoughts on World Cup ’22 being played in November and December in Qatar?


On Wednesday, FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke said the Qatar World Cup would be moved to those cooler months, causing a bit of a storm. Valcke’s viewpoint isn’t binding, but it’s likely that the FIFA Executive Committee will do exactly that with WC22 when it finally decides later this year.

When I visited Qatar in September, it was ungodly hot, but I came away thinking that the temperatures were less of a problem than most people believe. Qatar promised open-air cooling technology that would be inside and outside the stadiums in 2022, and first-generation cooling technology of that sort is already in place at the stadium of the Qatari club Al-Sadd. The bigger problem for me with Qatar is the inhumane treatment of migrant workers in the country, considering dozens of Nepali workers died in Qatar last summer.

But if the World Cup calendar move happens, as I think it will, you can be certain television rights holders like Fox Sports will make sure that they get massively compensated by FIFA in return. A World Cup that takes place during the NFL and college football seasons is a lot different from a World Cup that takes places in the U.S. when the sports calendar is more or less wide open.

Chris Klute

Colorado Rapids left back Chris Klute (right) is one of the players trying to earn a late U.S. ticket to the World Cup. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

How open is Jurgen Klinsmann to taking a new player on the USMNT in top form to Brazil? Wondering if Mike Magee can Buddle his way onto the team.


If I had to pick one new January camp player who could break into the senior team and go to Brazil, it would probably be left back Chris Klute. It’s a position where the U.S. has been thin, and Klute showed a ton of promise last season with Colorado. I like the way he gets down the field to deliver crosses and defensively he’s pretty good too. The guy who discovered Klute, Eric Wynalda, told me last summer that he thought Klute was already the best left back the U.S. had produced, and while I think that’s getting ahead of ourselves, the potential is there.

Another Wynalda/Klute story: When Wynalda was observing Klute with Atlanta, he said he noticed that Klute ate oatmeal for breakfast and didn’t put any sugar on it, and that was when his eyes were opened to the kid. Now look where he is.

Is Bob Bradley going to bring any U.S. players to his new gig at Stabæk in Norway?

Jon-Claud Nix, Corning, N.Y.

I asked Bradley that question, and here’s his reply: “We’ll see about U.S. players. For a player who wants a first step in Europe it could work. Creativity on a small budget will be important.”

By the way, it remains a colossal bummer that Bradley and Egypt drew Ghana in the African qualifying playoffs and weren’t able to make it all the way to Brazil. It’s clear that Bradley had a huge impact on many of his Egyptian players, including Mohamed Elneny of Basel, who doesn’t speak much English but went to the trouble to send Bradley this text recently (unedited):

“Hi mr pop, it’s Mohammed el neny. I just want to tell you that i’m so proud to be under your leadership. You made a great favor for what i achieved. I learned alot from you’r great experience. Unfortunately we lost you and all of egyptians lost a great coach like you. Honestly you are the best coach came to train our national team God bless you sir”

What is a good book for learning more about the game in terms of strategy? What about from a fan’s perspective?


For strategy, Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. For fandom, Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.

As of now, who do you foresee finishing top four in the Premier League?


Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, (deep breath) Manchester United.

Can you please talk about the potential of promotion/relegation in America?


I’d love to see it someday when the club game is on firmer footing here, but I don’t think it’s realistic right now when many MLS teams are still losing money. Why would any prospective new owner risk the money to become one if the team could get relegated from the top division?

Has the USMNT considered changing its World Cup training base to reduce travel times during the tournament?


Nope, and it won’t happen. Despite having group-stage games in the northeast (Natal, Recife) and the Amazon (Manaus), the U.S. will still stay in São Paulo and train at São Paulo FC.

Which brings us to:


Neighboring Sounds. Last week I put out a Twitter query asking for the best Brazilian films of the past three years, and several people recommended this one, which is available on Netflix streaming. It was a good call. The film is set in Recife, where the U.S. will play Germany, and it provides a look at how the neighbors in a fast-growing city deal with each other. What’s more, there’s confirmation in the film of something I first heard over dinner in Rio last month with a couple friends: You shouldn’t go into the water on the beaches at Recife due to the potential for shark attacks. Sharks in Recife are no joke.


he should have stayed in Germany. his move to Toronto is about money. Pure and simple


You gotta play at the highest level during your prime. 

MLS will NEVER surpass the major European leagues - La Liga, Bundesliga, and Premier League - with baseball, football, and basketball (and their lucrative network contracts and mega-marketing/branding push) around on American soil. And if there's no Champions League at the end of the tunnel, what's the point?

Bradley is now playing for a bad squad with mediocre talent around him. Congrats. Now you're in a league that is a bell curve - youngsters looking to prepare for European careers on one end, old-timey "name" players looking for a cash grab on the other, and a bulk of lower-quality personnel in the middle. 

Hopefully Bradley will be loaned out (like Dempsey recently) to another club overseas.


Who cares what Klinzy thinks, really?  Players need to do what's best for them and their families.  Furthermore, we need to grow our own league, too.  Screw worrying about him.  Do what you think is's your career, guys.  Congrats to Demps and Bradley!!!


Klinsmann is right on the money. The best USA players need to be playing in the best leagues...especially the EPL. The MLS is a joke relative to the major European leagues. Sad, but true. Bradley is a fool to move to the was Dempsey.


Don't see how MLS teams can afford these crazy Euro-style transfer fees and hope to stay in biz.


Oh no, America might become a soccer power and have a world class league with highly paid world class players. We can't have that. Europe! Europe! Europe! Europe is the center of the soccer universe...until one day it is not.

I for one welcome our American MLS overlords and American soccer players making huge coin without having to leave for the old world. Suck it Europe.


FIFA and Blatter need to be sued by more than the TV networks. Everyone who is affected by this arbitrary change in contract dates, physically or monetarily needs to join the law suit.


@MichaelC Playing somewhere beats sitting in a premier league especially in a run up to the WC.  When playing time is the goal and no "premier" teams are knocking, you gotta do what you gotta do.  All these armchair analyst know exactly what he should do without knowing all the surrounding circumstances.  


@MichaelC Couldn't you make a similar argument that the NBA could never be the premier basketball league in the world while the NFL and MLB exist?

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

@pamperofirpo:  It's a double-edged sword, or whatever similar cliche you'd like to use.  I firmly side with Klinsmann for the most part.  I don't have anything against MLS, and yes, we all know it's an inferior league to those in Europe, but still, I'm sure glad we have it.  The longer MLS stays around the stronger it will become. 

But...and it's a BIG but...I think for the majority of the American public, the primary way that soccer is going to grow in this country is through success in the World Cup.  The only way our players are going to develop to a high level is by playing in Europe.  At the same time it's obviously good for MLS to have these players play domestically at some point in their careers once they're established.

I always felt that Dempsey should've stayed at Fulham where he was a star and guaranteed playing time - plus he was helping a smaller club stay up in the Premier League - not that that is a great reason to stay.  But it just seemed like he fit there (and perhaps we're seeing that that's the case now with his loan). 


@Davos1 You are my new favorite poster!  F**k Europe.  We do it our way here.  The US doesn't follow Europe in anything.  Why should we in soccer?



Then sue Qatar too for buying themselves a WC.  Everyone knows how Blatter and his FIFA cartel operate, kickbacks and back scratching.  Why is anyone surprised?  Magical open-air cooling technology?  For realz?

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

@spikevicious@MarcoBastian:  Yeah, FIFA and the IOC just need to come out in the open and say "OK, who wants it next?  Ante up and make your best offer - most loot wins!"