TORONTO (AP) - Michael Bradley didn’t need too much time to mull things over after getting a sales pitch for his services from Toronto FC.
The American midfielder, unsure of playing time at Italy’s AS Roma, had multiple offers for a January move but called the chance to return to Major League Soccer “an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
“What they’re trying to build here is something really special, something unique,” Bradley said Monday after he was unveiled as Toronto’s newest marquee signing. “As a player, you want to be a part of something like that, you want to be at a place where the people share your ambition, share your goals, share your drive. It took all of two seconds for me to understand that I was going to be coming to a place here where I was going to be surrounded by people with that motivation and commitment.”
Striker Jermain Defoe, officially signed from Engand’s Tottenham last Friday, was introduced alongside Bradley as Toronto took the wraps off its two new designated players with a glitzy news conference at a downtown sports bar.
The moves represent the latest soccer coup by Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment and the man who helped bring David Beckham to America in his previous role as chief executive of the LA Galaxy.
“I think this is as big a day,” Leiweke said. “These guys aren’t bigger than David Beckham, no one is bigger than David Beckham. He will be the biggest, most important signing ever as a DP. They invented the rule for him. But, when you combine the fact that these two guys are coming … it makes a very, very dramatic statement about how people perceive this league in the world today.”
Leiweke said he asked Beckham to call the 31-year-old Defoe and help sell him on a move to MLS. Once Defoe was signed, Leiweke said the English striker’s deal was part of Bradley’s “recruitment” to Toronto.
Bradley, 26, jbegan his professional career in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars before being sold to Dutch club Heerenveen in Jan., 2006. He has also played for Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach, England’s Aston Villa and Italy’s Chievo Verona.
“The league is totally different from when I left,” Bradley said of MLS. “Things have changed, have grown. Honestly, there’s no comparison.”
Born in Princeton, N.J., Bradley has 11 goals in 81 appearances for the U.S.
“Many of us believe he is the heart and soul of the U.S. national team,” Leiweke said.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has indicated his preference for top American players to test themselves in leagues overseas, rather than MLS. With that in mind, Bradley said he spoke to Klinsmann before making the move back to North America, which followed Clint Dempsey’s summer move from Tottenham to Seattle.
“He and I had a good conversation,” Bradley said. “When things were getting toward the end, I wanted him to hear from me what I was thinking and where things were headed. The thing with Jurgen is that he wants guys in situations where they’re challenging themselves as players, as people, as leaders. For me, that’s what this is all about.”