From left, Tim Leiweke, Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, Ryan Nelsen and Tim Bezbatchenko: The men at the center of TFC's offseason surge. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)
At 26, midfielder Michael Bradley may be the most indispensable player on the U.S. national team as it heads toward the World Cup this summer in Brazil. In a surprising move last week, Bradley moved from Italy’s Roma to Toronto FC in a blockbuster $10 million transfer.
On Monday, Bradley was presented in Toronto alongside fellow signing Jermain Defoe in a glitzy press conference that rebooted Toronto after seven years of on-the-field futility. Suddenly TFC is the most intriguing team in MLS. Bradley took a few minutes to talk one-on-one on Monday afternoon:
SI.com: This is a big move for you personally, for MLS and for Toronto. How did the move come together?
Bradley: It really happened very quickly. In the span of about two weeks, I started to get word that Toronto were very interested. When I spoke with Tim Leiweke [the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns TFC] and [Toronto GM] Tim Bezbatchenko and [coach] Ryan Nelsen, it didn’t take long for me to understand what they’re trying to do here. I can see right away that these guys were motivated and committed to building something different, something special here in Toronto.
They see me as a big part of that. As a player that’s what you want. You want to be in a place where the people match your drive and ambition, and you feel like together you’re in something. The more I thought about it, the more I spoke to everybody, I just felt like this was an opportunity I didn’t want to let pass by.
SI.com: You had the chance to stay in Europe, either with Roma or with other top-flight teams. Why Toronto over those?
Bradley: In speaking with everybody involved with this club, I get that there’s a drive and commitment like no other. For me the chance to be a part in the building of that is something special that motivates me to no end. To come to a club like this and have the challenge of taking a really big role as a player, as a leader off the field, I’m ready for that, and that’s what I wanted.
SI.com: What are your impressions of Tim Leiweke, and what did he say in particular that helped convince you?
Bradley: He’s competitive, motivated, somebody who only thinks about the big picture. He’s someone who’s constantly trying to understand how he can improve, how his teams can improve and what he can do to make it all better. In speaking with him and his ideas, his goals for the club and where I fit into that, it didn’t take me long to understand that this is going to be a special place.
CREDITOR: Michael Bradley's greatest goals for club and country
SI.com: I know your father, Bob, is a big influence in your career and the decisions you make. When you guys talked about this move, what did he say to you?
Bradley: The idea that now I’m ready at this point in my career to be in a place where now a lot is expected of me. I’m being demanded every day in the way that I play and lead to make a big difference. That’s what motivates me, to come here and try to give everything I have to help build something that’s special and unique. Look, he knows me better than anybody. He knows that’s what I’m all about.
SI.com: You had a chance to speak to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann about your move. What was that discussion that you had?
Bradley: It was a good discussion. I wanted to call him at the end of last week when things were looking like they were getting finalized, just so he could hear things from me and understand what I was thinking. And look, at the end of the day Jurgen wants guys who aren’t afraid to take risks. He wants guys who are ready to challenge themselves to improve, who put themselves on the line to be better players, better people, better leaders. That’s what I’m doing here in Toronto.
SI.com: Is there any chance you’ll join the U.S. team down in Brazil?
Bradley: Down in Brazil? I don’t think so. We mentioned the idea of potentially when they get back from Brazil maybe meeting them out in L.A. I’m sure that’s something in the next few days we’ll catch up again and figure out exactly what he wants.
SI.com: You’re still a young guy at 26. Do you foresee the potential of someday going back to Europe?
Bradley: Nobody ever knows what life is going to bring for them. At this point in my life I had eight great years in Europe: different countries, different teams, different coaches. I enjoyed every second of it. If you’d asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d be back in MLS at this point, I probably would have said no. But I think everybody owes it to themselves that when certain opportunities come along, now you block out everything else and you decide in that moment what you want, what’s best for you. This is what I wanted. In my life and career I’ve never been afraid to make big decisions. I left home when I was 15. I went to Europe when I was 18, all trying to challenge myself to get better. That’s what I’m doing right now.
SI.com: They just announced the FIFA Ballon d’Or award for world player of the year today, with Cristiano Ronaldo winning. If you had voted, who would your top three votes have been?
Bradley: Ronaldo would have been No. 1. [Bayern Munich's Franck] Ribéry No. 2. And honestly, I put a lot of weight on winning things, so considering Philipp Lahm was the captain of Bayern Munich and they won everything, I’d put him in third.
SI.com: You’ve learned the language everywhere you’ve played, from Holland to Germany to Italy. Are you planning to learn Canadian?
: (laughs) Me and my family are very excited to become part of the community here in Toronto.