BY RACHEL SHULHAFER
The soccer world has been buzzing with the recent news that Michael Bradley, one of the best players on the U.S. men’s national team, has left his prestigious Italian team, Roma, to join Toronto FC, the third-worst team in Major League Soccer. Fellow American stars Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have also opted out of playing for European teams to come back home to play in MLS.
Let’s face it, MLS used to be a joke. Players used the league as a stepping stone to get to the bigger stages and fatter paychecks across the pond. Donovan, who is considered to be the best American player ever, was hugely criticized for deciding to stay in MLS after unsuccessful stints in Germany. People said he was giving up too easily and wasting his talent by deciding to sign with the L.A. Galaxy. But then when hotshot Europeans like David Beckham and Thierry Henry came to the U.S. to play, people suddenly started paying more attention, but maybe that’s only because they saw Bend it Like Beckham.
MLS is definitely on the rise. They’re not to the caliber of the European clubs, but they’re getting there. I think Landon Donovan being as loyal to MLS as he has been is a huge factor in that. He had his best World Cup in 2010, when the Americans won their group for the first time. He dominated on the biggest stage in sports, and became an American hero when he scored in the 92nd minute to beat Algeria. He’s also the all-time leader in scoring and assists for the national team. If people who don’t pay much attention to soccer know an American player by name, it’s most likely going to either be Donovan or Clint Dempsey, so when players who are that famous play for MLS, it’s going to draw some good attention. Last year, Dempsey left English Premier League team Tottenham to sign with the Seattle Sounders.
If Europe is the Mecca of soccer, why would these three guys decide to stay in America? Donovan, Dempsey, and Bradley all enjoy seven-figure salaries in a league whose minimum salary is $35,000, so it’s not like they’re taking a pay cut. While Bradley was a contributor for Roma, he rarely started, and sometimes didn’t play at all. With the move to Toronto, he’ll almost certainly be the star. Bradley has also mentioned that he would like to raise his infant son similarly to how he was raised in North America.
Next month, English player Jermain Defoe, who is a standout for Tottenham, will also join Toronto FC, further proving that MLS and American soccer is becoming internationally respected.