American soccer and MLS are not one in the same. MLS and US Soccer are deeply intertwined, but they are two separate entities and certain events in soccer affect one more than the other. For example, take Michael Bradley’s father, Bob Bradley. He had the opportunity to receive a lucrative contract to coach in MLS but instead he opted to coach a Norwegian team. Why did he make that decision? Because he wants to achieve his goal of being a coach at European club in one of its top leagues. If he went to MLS he would not have furthered his resume because he needs to prove he can coach at a European club and deal with the European club system. In essence, he has to prove he can succeed outside of his comfort zone (Being head coach of the Egyptian National team improved his resume but the international game and the club game are two different animals). Bob Bradley’s decision is the opposite of the decision his son has just made.
Michael Bradley has had a pretty successful European career. There have been ups and down during his club career but he has proven he is capable of being a starter at a club in one of Europe’s top leagues. As a result, his game has improved tremendously and he has grown from a role player on the USMNT to one its best players. His current struggles at AS Roma have been well documented but those struggles came on the heel of an injury that he suffered during an international qualifying match. Despite that setback he has played in several of AS Roma’s games and there were several other European clubs who have been showing interest in acquiring Michael Bradley and inserting him into their starting lineups. Michael joined AS Roma because he wanted Champions League soccer which makes it confounding that he would go to an MLS team where there is no chance of playing in the UEFA Champions League. Has Michael Bradley’s aspirations shrunk because of his lack of playing time? Or is the allure of playing in the US along with a very lucrative contract enough to convince Michael Bradley to abandon his career goals to make more money and go back to his comfort zone? Whatever the reasons for his move to MLS, it is no question that Michael Bradley is abandoning his career goals in order to languish in a lower quality league. At least Clint Dempsey was getting towards the wrong side of thirty, Michael Bradley hasn’t even hit the peak of his career yet (Which usually hits at around twenty-seven for most athletes). This move effectively stalls Michael Bradley’s growth during a critical World Cup year and will most likely negatively affect the team as a whole in the 2018 World Cup as well.
This move is a huge boon to MLS though. The league has long been criticized for not being able to retain top American talent and instead, being a feeder system for clubs overseas searching for young slightly developed American soccer players. However, the retention of Landon Donovan and the addition of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey is a big statement from MLS that they are capable of fielding the best American talent in an American soccer league. It effectively nullifies previous accusations thrown at MLS since they now have three of the best players on the USMNT. MLS will get a huge boost in ratings and profitability from having these three players and it also shows that the league is quickly moving in the direction towards achieving its goal of being a competitor in the crowded international soccer environment, and the equally as crowded American sports environment. That being said MLS is not at the competitive level it needs to be to create talent capable of competing effectively against top international talent. Hopefully one day it will be, but until then the players on the USMNT need to ply their trade in Europe in order to grow as soccer players. Therefore, although Michael Bradley’s addition to MLS will help the league, it will stall his individual progress at a critical time and in turn prevent the USMNT from reaching the level of quality it would have been able to achieve had Michael Bradley stayed in top flight European soccer.