July 19th, 2024

Captain Michael Bradley opens up on eve of last game for Toronto FC after 10 seasons

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on October 20, 2023.

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley (4) celebrates his goal against Charlotte FC during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto, on Saturday, April 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

TORONTO – Captain Michael Bradley, on the eve of his last game with Toronto FC, opened up Friday about his love for the city and the club, the debt to his family and his excitement at transitioning to the coaching ranks down the line.

Injured for much of a dismal MLS campaign that saw his father Bob Bradley fired in late June as head coach and sporting director, the 36-year-old midfielder spent much of the season under the radar.

He rarely spoke to the media. But on Friday, a thoughtful Bradley reflected on 10 seasons in Toronto that he said had “without a shadow of a doubt” exceeded expectations.

“I remember when I first got here, people looking at me like I was crazy. Asking if I was crazy,” he said recalling January 2014 when he joined a franchise that had gone 6-17-11 the season before and never made the playoffs. “And obviously you had others who just thought that I was packing it in early and taking a big paycheque.

“I said to people at the time that wasn’t true. I said to people at the time that I was hell-bent on trying to come here and do everything I could to take what I thought could be such a special club and help turn it into something.”

Bradley helped drag a franchise that had been the league’s doormat since coming on board in 2007 into first respectability and then success.

With Bradley leading the way, Toronto won one MLS Cup (2017), three Eastern Conference championships (2016, 2017, 2019), one Supporters’ Shield (2017) and four Canadian Championships (2016, 2017, 2018, 2020). TFC also made it to two other MLS Cup finals (2016 and ’19), losing to Seattle both times, and the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final, beaten by Mexico’s Chivas.

“We had things going at a really high level for a good few years there,” Bradley said.

But, pointing to the penalty shootout losses in the 2016 MLS Cup and 2108 CONCACAF Champions League, he acknowledged the franchise was “probably a few trophies short for how good we were.”

Usually the first at the training ground, Bradley set the tone with his professionalism and high standards.

He admitted retirement “wasn’t even on my radar” at the start of the season. He knew time was running out on his career but felt good, was motivated and believed the team was “on a good track.”

The season proved to be a test, however. He missed 19 games in all competitions due to a hamstring injury that required surgery, with his father axed during his absence.

“Little by little, it started to feel like now there was going to be a real chance that this was the right time (to retire),” he said.

“I’d say that for the last few months I was 99.9 percent sure that I was going to retire at the end of the year,” he added. “But obviously when you get to the end, it’s a little bit like time to put you money where your mouth is. And with something like this, that’s way easier said than done.

“And on top of that then that coincided with John (Herdman) coming (as coach).”

Bradley was complimentary towards Herdman, saying the former Canada coach has been “extremely respectful with me. Honest, open, candid. And not just him, his staff.”

But he said he stuck to his decision as Toronto”s nosedive continued.

“To end after a season like this, maybe in a perfect world that’s not the way it would go,” he said. “But then you start thinking about the other side. I’m really excited for the next chapter of my life and my career. I know what I want to do “¦ I’m motivated as can be to try to coach and to try to become the best possible coach that I can be, to coach at the highest level I can.”

Bradley, who completed his UEFA B coaching licence during his injury layoff, said he had nothing firm yet in terms of coaching and was prepared to start at the bottom and work is way up.

“I’m up for anything,” he said.

Another factor in his decision was his belief that he and his family – he is married with two kids – needed “new experiences” to challenge themselves.

Bradley offered little when asked about his father’s firing.

“It’s been a really difficult and big challenge in so many different ways around here this year. That’s what I’ll say,” he said.

But he managed to speak volumes without naming names when asked about the reported unrest in the Toronto locker-room this season.

“We were trying to take a club with really big expectations, take a group of players with a lot of different backgrounds and a lot of different experiences and a lot of different levels of motivation, ambition. And we were trying to make a team,” he said.

“That’s what it always is. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it works really well “¦ In other moments, you don’t have the right group. You don’t have the right people. You’re trying and you’re trying and you’re trying but it’s not easy.”

“You have to get your people right,” he added. “The quality of the people at every level inside a club is the most important thing.”

Bradley, choking back emotion, paid tribute to his “amazing family,” thanking his wife Amanda for being by his side during the various stops of his playing career. And he recalled the sacrifices his mother made to drive a young Bradley to practice all around Chicago.

“I have an incredible family now and I grew up in an incredible family,” he said.

Toronto (4-19-10) closes out the season Saturday at home to Orlando City (17-7-9).

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023

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