Landon Donovan. LANDON DONOVAN. Landon. Donovan. Landondonavanlandondonavan.
Oh wait, that was last week. So with all that nostalgia purged from our system, it’s time to look forward and ask: What’s the future for Michael Bradley?
It’s a question that the U.S. head coach himself posed on Monday night. It’s no great shock to find Jurgen “[Dempsey] hasn’t made shit” Klinsmann expressing concern at the midfielder’s switch this year from AS Roma to Toronto FC – potential-wise and dollar-for-dollar the most underwhelming MLS team of the season (and most seasons, to be fair).
“Making that decision going from Roma – a Champions League team to Toronto that now seems like they are not even qualifying for the playoffs – it is a huge disappointment,” Klinsmann told reporters in Boca Raton ahead of the U.S. game against Honduras Tuesday tonight.
“That comes along with [how you need to] adjust yourself to whatever environment you are in … he has to adjust to the environment that he is in with Toronto instead of maybe an environment that plays Champions League football.
“He is going through that experience now and still coming in now, the first time since the World Cup — he has to prove that he hasn’t lost a bit,” Klinsmann added. “Obviously we will keep working and pushing, but it is down to him and his environment, what level he is capable to play.”
Bradley’s response ahead of what is set to be his first U.S. game since Brazil? “I think despite a less than successful season on a team level, I have still found ways to push myself and improve.” To the casual onlooker, these improvements are not immediately obvious. Maybe he’s spent his time in Canada learning French or extending his knowledge of hockey.
At least Bradley is sure to start in Toronto, which wasn’t the case in Rome. He’s had plenty of the ball – according to Opta, only 16 MLS players this year have had more touches. But for all that regular opportunity, and despite his status as Toronto’s hub, Bradley has not looked particularly productive. And unlike the thirtysomething Dempsey, the 27-year-old Bradley ought to be at his peak.
Nor has he seemed to control games – to grab them by the scruff of the neck and lead them where he wants, as he so often did for the national team before this year’s World Cup. He worked hard but mainly looked to be treading water, trying to influence the flow of games, not dictating them as the U.S. wanted and expected.
FLASHBACK, World Cup: Don’t blame Michael Bradley (Warshaw)
Though he’s been playing with a striker of the caliber and speed of Jermain Defoe (though he’s missed a lot of games), Bradley’s only produced four assists, the same tally he managed in his previous MLS season in 2005 with the MetroStars. He’s taken a lot of shots, averaging more than two a game, but only 12 have been on target. Two have hit the net. He has only three fewer off-target shots than MLS top scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Toronto’s toil and the challenge of adjusting to a new country and a new league (in so far as the U.S. and MLS are new) certainly need to be taken into account, but this year Bradley’s been the poster child for Klinsmann’s pet theory about the benefits of playing at the highest possible level (i.e., in Europe). Instead of lifting up the mediocrities around him, he’s sunk toward their level.