Once thought of to be an almost unfathomable idea -- Michael Bradley leaving an Italian team poised to qualify for UEFA Champions League for a MLS team that has never made the playoffs -- is coming close to be finalized, according to reports from ESPN.
News first leaked out on Wednesday afternoon when ESPN TV analyst Taylor Twellman sent out a tweet suggesting the possibility. From there, it quickly escalated to the point that reporter Jeffrey Carlisle had a story full of details from Bradley's reasoning to the dollar amounts involved. According to Carlisle's report, MLS and/or Toronto FC will pay a transfer fee of as much as $10 million to AS Roma and then give the 26-year-old United States midfielder an annual salary of around $6.5 million.
The reasons for Bradley's move -- aside from seeing a pay raise of about five times his current wage -- are relatively straightforward. After establishing himself as a regular starter for Roma a year ago, Bradley has played in just 11 of 18 Serie A matches this season and started only five times. With newly acquired Radja Nainggolan threatening to knock Bradley down to No. 5 on the three-man midfield depth chart, the American faced the very real prospect of rarely seeing the pitch in the run up to the 2014 World Cup. These were a lot of the same reasons that prompted Bradley's countryman Clint Dempsey to make a slightly less stunning move to MLS in August.
Playing time will be one thing that Bradley won't have to worry about at Toronto FC, a team that has never made the MLS playoffs in their seven years of existence. He will immediately become the best player in franchise history and arguably the most accomplished player younger than 30 to have ever been in the league while anywhere near the top of his abilities.
For their part, Toronto FC is showing some real ambition as well. Up until the news about Bradley started to spread, the big news out of Toronto FC was that they were poised to sign Tottenham's Jermain Defoe and unveil him in a much hyped press conference on Monday. Between the two starlets, Toronto FC will reportedly be committing about $100 million in guaranteed compensation and transfer fees.
These are just the clearest signs that under the control of President Tim Leiweke, the atmosphere has changed dramatically in Toronto. In both Bradley and Defoe, they've signed a pair of players who can still clearly compete in the top leagues in the world (even if not necessarily starting regularly for clubs with Champions League ambitions). While it obviously remains to be seen how successful this will be on the field, it seems a safe bet that Toronto FC can at least make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. At the absolute least, it's a sign that TFC is willing to outspend the rest of the league in an attempt to turn things around.
The only outstanding issue would then be how to make room for these players. Defoe was supposed to be the team's third Designated Player, joining Matias Laba and the recently signed Gilberto. All indications are that Laba is going to be the odd man out, with Toronto FC looking to either trade the 22-year-old or loan him out for the year.
That would seemingly be a small price to pay in order to pave the way for the player that most agree is the United States' most important player.