It was never in doubt. Despite the fears of the more paranoid in the fan base, Michael Bradley was always going to return to Toronto FC and he was always going to return as a TAM level player.
Bradley said it himself at the press conference announcing the new contract – the ability of the club to get better and win more trophies was a major factor in the decision to stay in Toronto. Now, make no mistake. The fact he’s earned close to $40-million USD during his time in the city makes such decisions a bit easier.
No one is holding a tag day for Bradley in the coming days. He’ll have to make due with “only” $4 to $5-million more.
Although suggestions that he is a martyr for accepting what is a very nice contract for a 33-year old are probably a bit over stated, he still did likely leave some money on the table and, more importantly, doubled down on his commitment to the team and city.
That is significant for a lot of non-football reasons. It’s a symbol to potential signings that this is a place they should want to play and that it’s the type of city that you’ll want to raise a family in.
It’s also important to the typical Toronto sports fan, who is often an odd mix of bravado and self-doubt. Hated by the rest of Canada and ignored by the American sports media machine, Toronto fans are both over-protective of their current athletes and a bit thirsty for their approval. Even in a period of history that has unquestionably been successful for Toronto sports – two ALCS appearances, three MLS Cup appearances and one championship and the NBA championship since 2015 – that self-doubt is evident, even while they are beating their chest.
But, that’s really just fans being fans stuff and it shouldn’t factor into a cold, sober evaluation of the decision to give him another contract.
So, is it a good idea for TFC to lock Bradley up until 2022, when he will be 36-years old?
I many ways that’s not the most important question, however. If you accept that the goal of any professional sports team is to win championships then the important question is whether it’s a good idea to bring Bradley back for 2020. Does retaining the American-international help ensure that a team that was one luck bounce away from standing in the confetti in 2019 stays in the championship conversation.
The answer is yes. Bradley is still among the top defensive midfielders in MLS and he provides a tangible benefit to TFC that goes beyond the intangibles that most people point to when evaluating Bradley.
If you ignore the noise of frustrated and irrational US national team fans and instead look at the hard performance data what you find is a player that does one thing particularly well – even TAM level well – he keeps the ball.
According to Whoscored.com, Bradley was dispossessed just 0.6 times per 90 minutes in 2019 and had only 1.1 unsuccessful touches per game. As a comparison, Mark-Anthony Kaye, widely viewed as one of the best young 6s in MLS today, averages 1.9 of each.
In fact, Bradley’s combined “turnover” number of 1.7/90 was the best among all central defenders in MLS last year. Although his days of being able to play a 100-metre game are over he still does the core stuff amazingly well and his stability allows the stars to shine. Those skills are less reliant on athleticism and well likely hold up longer than the more explosive numbers.
And all that is without getting into the intangibles, which are significant, if un-measurable.
Time will tell if Bradley is still playing at a TAM level in 2022, but, for now, re-signing Bradley is a good piece of business for the Reds.