The Full 90

Reports: U.S. midfielder Bradley set for shock move back to MLS

Updated: 2014-01-09T05:39:13Z

Charles Gooch

The Kansas City Star

I had every intention of starting the new year off here on the blog with a Sporting Kansas City-centric entry. Offseason needs, draft prep, who's in, who's out. That's gonna have to wait a bit.

We've got Michael Bradley stuff to talk about.

If you've been living under a rock, the 26-year-old midfield rock for the U.S. national team seems poised to move from AS Roma to Major League Soccer as part of a $100-million spending spree that also includes Tottenham's Jermaine Defoe.

The financial numbers on Bradley were a little squishy, but he's expected to earn an annual salary somewhere near $6.5 million. The transfer fee could be in the neighborhood of $7-$10 million.

While the move is a little shocking,* it's a tremendous addition for Major League Soccer. Especially coming not even six months after Clint Dempsey shocked American soccer fans by leaving Tottenham for Seattle. (The payout for Dempsey was reportedly around $10 million; his annual guaranteed compensation is a little north of $5 million.)

*I don't get the upside of this move, professionally, for Bradley. He could've slotted into just about any team in England (save a few) or Germany (save for one team). Instead, he's moving to a team in Toronto that is completely and totally building from scratch for what seems like the 30th time in a decade. I'm a little bit worried about the step-down in quality of play for a key U.S. player in a World Cup year -- after all, his current team demolished the MLS All-Stars last summer. But, obviously, he didn't share those same concerns or he didn't get many offers that topped this one. Which I find a little baffling, but I'm just a blogger. And the upside for the league is so, so high.

If this does happen it means that, in a World Cup year, the United States' three best field players -- Bradley, Dempsey and Landon Donovan -- would all be plying their trades domestically.

Of course, to attract these sort of players, MLS had to start using real money and playing for real in the world's transfer market.* For the last few years, MLS has played in periphery of the world transfer market looking for undervalued gems (like getting in early on Fredy Montero), international bargains (like the well-traveled Aurelien Collin) or the occasional fizzled-out-in-Europe American (Eddie Johnson, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Findley, et al). More often than not, MLS has been a seller -- see Kamara, Kei and Shea, Brek just last year.

* The tab for Bradley and Defoe is reportedly $100 million. If you need a number for comparison, Manchester City and the New York Yankees paid an $100-million dollar fee to MLS to make New York City FC the league's 20th team. We are officially in crazy town.

Whether these are the first steps toward a big-spending future or a few well-timed (because of the World Cup) purchases is yet to be determined.

But a practical question does arise with all this money flowing around: What will Major League Soccer do with its salary cap and minimum salary for this year? In 2013, the cap was set at $2,950,000 and the minimum salary for a veteran of the age of 25 was $46,500. To further restrict matters (for a few teams), the cap on designated players (paid outside the confines of the salary budget) was set at three.

Big name players are great, but attracting and retaining a higher quality of middle-tier and young talent is just as important for competitive balance. To do that, that number has to rise. Could it theoretically go as high as $4.5 million? Imagine what a team like Sporting Kansas City -- a mountain of allocation money, some fairly deep-pocketed owners, excellent scouting network -- could do with an extra $1.5 million in salary?

We saw a few signs in 2013 that the league meant business in keeping young talent based here.

The Los Angeles Galaxy signed defender Omar Gonzalez to a designated player contract to keep the U.S. defender stateside while Sporting Kansas City dipped into the league's "retention funds" to re-sign Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. Those three are likely to make the World Cup roster; Besler and Gonzalez are likely the starting center backs.*

*If you throw in Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman -- all seem likely to be included in Klinsmann's squad -- that could mean at least 10 MLS-based players on the World Cup roster.

MLS has never shied away from its ambitions on attracting big-name talent, what better way to start than retaining potential big names already here and attracting those who have strayed overseas back home?

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