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.
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:
THIS WEEK’S MOVIE REC
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.