The first time I spoke to Michael Bradley was among a media horde in the lead up to the World Cup Qualifying match between the United States and Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium last June.
That was before his shocking move from Italy’s Serie A giant AS Roma back to Major League Soccer, joining Toronto FC in early January. But before TFC rolls into Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, I spoke with the U.S. star about his first few weeks back in the MLS saddle, what motivates him, his outlook on RSL and this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, now just 11 weeks away. Also: Apologies for the rambling questions in bold.
Q&A with Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley:
In the few months since you’ve been back in MLS, have noticed anything different or has anything been an eye-opener to you lately?
Bradley: “No, I’m just always really excited. Really happy to be part of what’s going on here in Toronto. We’re building something here, and obviously it’s really early, but it’s something that everybody here that’s a part of feels good about. It’s a long season, there’ll be ups and downs along the way, but in the long run, our look over the next few years, the changes that this club made will become something in MLS.”
You’ve played in some of the best leagues in the world — what really stood out to you about making a dramatic move such as this one, moving from Roma to Toronto FC?
Bradley: “It’s why I’m here. The challenge of it all, for the opportunity to be at a club where I’m at every day [and] to put a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders and help things move along. It’s never going to come down to just one person. I think the club has done such good job of making the right moves really since the day the season ended last year. We have a good mix of young guys, of old guys, guys with good experience with players around the world and several established guys in MLS.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of this club and the challenge of it all certainly is something that motivates me very much.”
Do you think you have an innate ability to lead on the field? And if so, where does that come from? You became a professional at a younger age than most soccer players in this country and you were a coach’s son. What shaped your attitude?
Bradley: “It’s just how I am. I enjoy the challenge of competing, of stepping on the field, of giving everything you can for your team to be successful and to help your team to win.”
This will be your first and only look at Real Salt Lake this season. What are your thoughts heading into this Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto?
Bradley: “It’s a good team, for sure. A team that over the course of a number of years has established itself as one of the better teams in the league. We have respect for that, but we’re also confident in who we are. We are confident that the chance is there for us too, if we do things right, if we play a good, strong game, we feel confident going out on the road and getting a result.”
Did you anticipate your move back to MLS getting this much attention? Many have looked at you now as sort of a poster boy for making the decision to play in the U.S., instead of strictly overseas. Did you see this decision reaching these heights?
Bradley: “For me, it’s all about the chance to be at a club where we’re now tying to build something and build something different than anything that goes on in the league. I’m here to play, I’m here to compete, I’m here to enjoy every second of that part — and I’m here to win. Those are things that are easier said than done, that’s why I’m here. In the meantime if it sets an example for others or if they want to interpret it that way, they certainly have that right. I’m going to enjoy every part of it the same.”
You’ll go from facing off against guys like Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando to being their teammates. What have you seen from those two players that have lent to their successes at RSL and with the national team over the last couple of years?
Bradley: “They’re two solid, veteran players who have established themselves in this league over the last several years. Any team they play on, they have the respect of their teammates for what they’re about and what they bring every day. That may have formed the foundation that the Salt Lake team was built on.”
You’ve accomplished many things in your time as a pro and international soccer player, what goals remain for you that you’ve yet to accomplish?
Bradley: “As I keep saying, I’m here to win to give everything I have to win and to make that happen. I want to win MLS Cups. At a certain point here an MLS team has to win the [CONCACAF] Champions League and I want it to be us. When you talk about the national team, you try to continue to build on everything that we’re doing. We feel we can get to the point where now, we’re getting into World Cup to play right until the very end.”
The World Cup camps expected to be solidified around May sometime, can you start to taste it as a player? The World Cup is as big as a sporting event there is in the world and it would probably be hard to keep from thinking about it.
Bradley: “You certainly know it’s around the corner, but having said that, you need to concentrate and focus on each day — you won’t get yourself anywhere if you’re here thinking two months ahead. For me, it’s about training each and every day and playing Salt Lake this weekend.”