Bradley's MLS Move Could Be Better Than Beckham's

Bradley heading to TFC could prove more influential than Beckham's move
by Roy Rosell   |   Tuesday, January 14, 2014

John Hefti Photography - LA Galaxy, MLS

When the David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy transfer was first announced, the world scoffed at the global icon's decision.

The general public saw it as a decision to step away from "real" football to entrench himself in the fame and glamour of Los Angeles, and play a little soccer on the side. Even worse, Beckham was ridiculed for giving up top-level soccer for the sake of appeasing Posh's cravings for the Spice-y life in the Hollywood lights. But MLS fans couldn't be happier.

Beckham's transfer to the Galaxy put MLS on the global soccer map. The young league had made its intentions clear: We want to be globally recognized, we want to attract the best talents, and we want to grow. With this move, Major League Soccer and the LA Galaxy had finally made its mark on an international scale.

But nobody followed suit. Yes, there were dozens of signings of good players that would make the die-hard MLS fan run around shrieking and frantically flailing their arms with excitement (guilty as charged), but as for making a big statement, there wasn't enough to get the casual soccer fan to take notice.

It wasn't until several years later that the New York Red Bulls decided to stand up and proudly proclaim, "You can have Beckham LA! We just got world footballing legend and 4-time Premiere league Golden Boot winner Thierry Henry on our side!" MLS fans went absolutely berserk at the announcement. The global spotlight was once again shining on the MLS.

Following Henry's blockbuster move to New York came the Clint Dempsey to Seattle Sounders transfer. It was shocking. Twitter blew up with #DempseyWatch tweets. MLS fans were elated. US fans expressed mixed reactions, but for the most part, were ecstatic that arguably the most talented US player in history would be playing in their league while still in his prime. Something about this transfer felt revolutionary, perhaps monumental.

Now, the MLS is in the midst of the most shocking and arguably the most defining transfer in the league's history. The 26-year-old US midfield general, Michael Bradley, to Toronto FC – a move that could potentially serve as the tipping point for the league's journey to global competitiveness.

As a result, MLS and US fan's overwhelming reaction has been an uproar of negativity. Comments like "He is ruining his career!" "Goodbye World Cup hopes!" and "BRADLEY PLEASE STAY IN EUROPE! YOU'RE NOT READY TO RETIRE!!!" have littered social media and soccer forums throughout the web.

This is likely due to the fact that Bradley is leaving Champion's League hopefuls Roma, for the worst-performing club in North America, Toronto FC. The same Toronto FC that caused an emotionally drained Danny Koevermans to proclaim that they could be the worst team in the world. The same Toronto FC that hasn't had a single winning season since its inception in to the league in 2007 and has gone from sold out stadiums, to depressingly sparse crowds in just 5 years.

But why the apocalyptic reaction from US fans as a result of this transfer? People who don't follow the MLS and its progress argue that the only quality players the league can acquire are the aging ex-stars that are uncommitted and are only here to close their careers while enjoying the American lifestyle and the hefty paycheck. Thus, in the eyes of these individuals, the decision of a US player who has yet to hit his best level to make a move from Europe to the US equates to a strapping young lad making the move to a senior living home.

Because of the lack of media attention MLS signings get, it's hard to blame them for thinking that, regardless of the fact that it couldn't be further from the truth.

For the domestic league to grow, big moves must be made. US fans who speak lowly of the MLS and throw it under the bus at every opportunity fail to realize that a competitive domestic league goes hand in hand with the ability to produce quality players for a competitive national team. Though many will employ the argument that this is not the case with England, comparing England's success as a national team to the US’s isn't an applicable argument. Their problems lie elsewhere. The fact is that as a result of their league and development academies, they have developed countless world class players. That is a result of having a top league and it is exactly what we lack in the US.

Those opposed to Bradley’s transfer fail to realize a simple equation:

1) Signing good players to a team increases the quality of that team.

2) Because of MLS's parity structure, increasing the quality of one team promotes others in the league to do the same.

3) When multiple teams in the league are improving their rosters to stay competitive, the league gets more competitive.

Is having a more competitive league and providing an excellent platform for young players to develop no longer the ultimate goal of US Soccer?

The one sacrifice in this move is the 4 or 5 years Bradley would have spent fighting for a starting role in Europe. One thing is for certain – he didn't have a starting role in Roma and recent transfers by the team made it clear that the uphill battle he was fighting for that spot was getting steeper. The choice to get out of there on a World Cup year was a good one.

He could have transferred to another top team in Europe, but doing so would risk him having to fight for playing time again, thus, potentially limiting his match fitness in a crucial time leading to the World Cup. See Bradley's time with Aston Villa as an example of what could have happened here.

Keeping this in consideration, getting a guaranteed starting role in the MLS, playing alongside players similar to those he will be with on the US National team, isn't a bad choice. There are countless examples of players traded to less competitive leagues that continued being heroes for their national teams; Assamoah Gyan transferring to the UAE and continuing to be a dominant player for his national team being a good recent example of this.

Bradley could have gone to pretty much any team in the world. He knows it, US fans know it, everyone that has seen him play knows it. But he chose to come to the US to be an ambassador for the league and make a powerful statement concerning MLS's intentions to excel.

Let Bradley do his work, we may very well like how it all turns out in the long run. 

Roy ROSELL

Nationality:
USA
College:
Cal Poly Pomona
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Absolute fanatic, especially passionate about MLS and it's growth. LA Galaxy columnist with no filter and a knack for the controversial. Travelled the world watching soccer matches, but there's no place like home.
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