Toronto FC will head into future battles with its field general leading the way.
At the club’s year-end availability on Wednesday, TFC president Bill Manning, GM Ali Curtis and captain Michael Bradley all suggested that Bradley is just a few days away from signing another contract with the club.
Bradley’s current deal expires this year and he kept negotiations between himself, his agent and the club this season close to the vest, as not to distract the team. Now it’s almost certain that the 32-year-old will return to the Reds, though likely not as a Designated Player.
“I told Ali (Tuesday), ‘Let’s close it in the next week or so,’” Manning said. “So I think we’re in a good place. Certainly there’s a desire on both sides. We just have some small things that we’re trying to work out.
“For me he’s the most important, pressing matter,” Manning added. “As I told Ali, I’d like to see in the next 7-10 days if we can wrap it up and then that will dictate where we can go moving forward.”
Bradley joined the Reds for the 2014 season when the club was still considered a bit of a laughingstock in the league and he played his 200th match (over all competitions) for TFC in Sunday’s MLS Cup final against Seattle, a 3-1 loss. During that time, the Reds won an MLS Cup, went to the final three times, made it to the Concacaf Champions League final, won a Supporters’ Shield and captured three Canadian championships.
Bradley’s leadership has been deemed as important to TFC as his midfield generalship. And he’s one of the reasons the franchise has gone from a joke to one of the elite teams in MLS.
In Sunday’s MLS Cup final, Bradley suffered an ankle injury and kept playing. An X-Ray after the game didn’t show any major damage, but he is having an MRI done this week.
“I love it here. I feel attached to the city, to the club, to the team. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do … not just the success, but the identity the club has taken on,” Bradley said on Wednesday. “I’m confident that there’s a deal to be found. The money, while always important, that’s not the driving force. I came here for something way bigger than that and the reasons for me wanting to stay are way bigger than that. I want to make sure that in all ways the drive and ambition of the club are every bit, if not bigger, than when I first got here.”
The Princeton, N.J., native called TFC his “hometown” team.
“I feel at home here,” said Bradley, who said he can still get better as a player.
As for the designation — whether Bradley comes back as a DP player (each team in the MLS is allowed three big-money DPs) or a TAM player — Curtis said “everything is on the table.”
“We want to try to get a deal done and then try to figure the designations after the fact,” Curtis said. “In the universe before (Bradley) came here, he was definitely going to be a designated player. I think now there’s a conversation where he’d not be a designated player.”
Curtis was asked: If Bradley returns as a TAM player and the salary rules don’t change dramatically during the CBA negotiations this winter, would TFC sign another DP (to go along with Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo)? Curtis replied in the affirmative.
The first order of business to everyone on the team is bringing Bradley back.
“I think it’s crucial to have him back, to keep his leadership, to keep that fighting spirit, to keep everyone on the same mission,” TFC centre back Omar Gonzalez said. “He’s amazing at that, and he’s amazing at leading by example. He holds guys accountable, which is very important. I think it’s very important to have him in our jersey next year.
“When the biggest games are on the line, he shows up,” Manning added. “He’s a guy I hope can be here when he retires. He’s our engine.”
Manning added that one of the major goals for next season is reaching the MLS Cup final for the fourth time in five years.
Heading into the 2019 season, after the Reds lost a pair of stars in Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez, TFC had to make some wholesale changes in order to remain in position to compete this year.
New GM Curtis brought in attacking midfielder Pozuelo, goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and Gonzalez. Heading into the 2020 campaign, Manning said it’s important that the club keeps the pedal to the metal.
“I think were going to approach next season, especially without Concacaf Championship League, with guns blazing,” he said, adding that another attacking player is a priority for 2020.
“Just to have another attacking talent that can supplement Jozy (Altidore) and Pozo (Pozuelo), that’s something that I think can make us even better,” Manning said. “It’s finding the right piece. I look at the acquisition of Omar Gonzalez this year as game-changing for us.
“Who we do add, an attacking option, has got to be someone who can put the ball in the net every couple of games,” Manning added. “We have a number of profiles that we’re looking at, but the economics will play out over the course of the next few weeks on where we can go with the financials on that.”
Altidore said he is all for bringing in another goal-scoring.
“We can definitely use one more guy, a winger, that type of player, that can make things happen,” the veteran forward said. “I don’t think we need too much, but I do think we need a bit more firepower in terms of the attack.”
Altidore said the club needs a modern type of attacking player who can create as well as score — sort of like when Giovinco and Vazquez were with the club.
“I think Poz as a player (type) we’ve had in the past in terms of being silky and dynamic and be able to create,” Altidore said. “Now you need that other guy who can do a little bit of that, but also get goals, get assists and kind of create on his own.”
CHAPMAN TO MIAMI
TFC made a move on Wednesday, acquiring $100,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) from expansion franchise Inter Miami CF in exchange for Brampton native Jay Chapman.
Chapman, 25, originally signed with the Reds before the 2015 season. In five seasons, the midfielder made a combined 88 appearances with six goals and five assists. Chapman was part of TFC’s Treble winning team in 2017 and was also part of two other Canadian Championship winning teams (2016, 2018).
“Having signed a homegrown contract in 2015, Jay has been part of teams over the years that have won a lot for the club,” Curtis said. “While we believe the trade is good for TFC, it presents a solid opportunity for Jay to start a new chapter in his life and playing career. Jay will be missed but having been with both our academy and first team, he will always be part of the TFC family.”
LEAGUE TALKING POINTS
The current CBA expires at the end of January and there are a few key issues that MLS and the MLS Players Association have to work out, including roster development, compensation and charter travel.
A number of important players in MLS, including former D.C. United star Wayne Rooney, have expressed frustration over the league’s travel policy, which severely limits the number of charter flights a club can take in a season. Rooney decided to return to England after this season. The “big four” pro leagues in North America (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) travel in comfort on charters between games.
“At the end of the day, the league talks about being a serious league, wants to be one of the best leagues by 2022, 2023. It can’t be when we’re still getting delayed (waiting for commercial flights),” said Altidore, adding that oftentimes players don’t get a proper day of recovery following a game because of travel headaches.
“At the end of the day, the product suffers and I don’t think that can be spoken about enough. The league wants the product to be better, they want games to be more competitive: Trips have to be not as long. Guys have to be able to get home and recover for a Wednesday game and that’s not how it is now.”
ANYTHING IS POZ-IBLE
Pozuelo had an impressive first season in the MLS for TFC, becoming just the fifth player in club history to be named to MLS’ Best XI, a year-end recognition of the 11 most outstanding players in the league. He was also nominated for Newcomer of the Year.
Pozuelo scored 12 goals, added 12 assists and is at his best as an attacking midfielder. But Vanney had to move the Seville native around at times, particularly during the playoffs when he was used as a false nine with Altidore out of the lineup with a quad strain.
Pozuelo said he was happy to play anywhere to help the club, but admitted that attacking midfield is his best spot and he is hoping to play the majority of time at that position next season.
As well, with a year in MLS under his belt and a full off-season of recovery, Pozuelo expects to have an even better 2020 season than he did in his rookie campaign.
“Now I know the league, I know the other teams, I have holiday in my legs and my head also (in the off-season), so I think next year I will be better,” said Pozuelo, who played 78 games (Belgian Pro League and MLS) this season without a significant break. “I think next year when I play only 30 games in the regular season I think will be perfect.”