The news that Michael Bradley will follow Clint Dempsey's footsteps and return to Major League Soccer has unveiled the schism that divides many North American soccer fans. Bradley's arrival strengthens MLS and enriches himself, but at what cost?
First things first. If the reported numbers are correct, Michael Bradley would be an idiot to turn down the offer to move to Toronto. It would be nice if world-class American players could earn that money from Europe's biggest clubs, but that's not the world we live in now. Similar to Clint Dempsey's deal to sign with Seattle last year, Bradley is now set for life. The pressure of setting up his family's future is off his shoulders and he can just go out and play.
Just as my belief that the raison d'être of the national team should always be to win the World Cup, the goal for MLS should be to be the best league in the world. While this is a small step in the right direction for the league, it is a potentially big step in the wrong direction for the US heading into the World Cup this summer.
Is MLS a fun league to follow? Absolutely. Is it better than it was a decade ago? Without question. Is it the best league in the world? Are you kidding me?
Heading home is not unique to MLS, and it is not always a negative when it comes to the national team. Maxi Rodriguez has reemerged as a candidate for the albiceleste by heading home to play for Newell's Old Boys. Unlike MLS, Newell's is one of the best clubs in Argentina's Primera A and competes in the Copa Libertadores against South America's best.
Many Brazilian stars have been heading home in recent years like Ronaldinho, Pato, Fred, Jo and Luis Fabiano. They were all worried about being trapped on the fringes in Europe to be forgotten by head coach Luis Felipe Scolari in the run-up to the World Cup. They chose to return to Brazil where they would play and be noticed. Unlike MLS though, the most recent analysis by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics ranks Brazil's Serie A as the second best league in the world, behind only Spain's La Liga.
Some say this is a sign that MLS realizes it needs to bring in good players in their prime, especially if their American. However, United States national team boss Jürgen Klinsmann wants his stars playing against the best competition they can, even more so in a World Cup year.
While the arrival of Radja Nainggolan to Roma's midfield would seem to push Bradley further into the shadows, there are hundreds of other good clubs in Europe that would be glad to have him. However, it is doubtful they want him bad enough to offer the money that Toronto will.
Many MLS fans complain about retirement league stigma when older players come over to close out their careers, but the league is not at the point where Michael Bradley can come in his prime and get better. There might be personal reasons, but from a developmental perspective, this seems to be an awful move for him and the national team.