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Report: Toronto closes in on Bradley

MAJOR MOVE
Will Michael Bradley make the move to Toronto FC from AS Roma?
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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The rumor stunned like a lightning bolt on a perfectly clear day. Michael Bradley, the United States men’s national team’s midfield orchestrator and emotional leader, would sign with Major League Soccer club Toronto FC imminently, according to a tweet by ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman.

While Bradley’s agent Ron Waxman declined to comment to FOXSoccer.com, several other reporters confirmed the rumor, reiterating that a deal was close but not done.

The mooted transfer seems surprising for a whole raft of reasons. For one, Bradley has been relentlessly ambitious throughout his soccer career, clawing his way to the top of the world game through carefully planned stints in MLS, the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy. At AS Roma, he played considerable minutes in his first season at one of the Italian league’s giants in 2012-13.

The arrival of Dutch fellow central midfielder Kevin Strootman and an ankle injury conspired to reduce his playing time this season, but he was nevertheless in the mix for crucial minutes ahead of this summer’s World Cup. On Tuesday, however, Roma announced the signing of another central midfielder, Belgium’s Radja Nainggolan.

Secondly, Bradley would appear to have other options in Europe. A Sunderland offer to return to the Premier League -- where he spent a brief, unsuccessful loan spell with Aston Villa in 2011 -- was allegedly turned down by Roma over the summer. His thoughtful, austere play also counts plenty of admirers in Serie A, the league he dreamed of playing in his youth.

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Thirdly, at just 26, Bradley’s career is still very much on an upward trajectory. He has made remarkable strides since joining Chievo Verona ahead of the 2011-12 season and continues to put everything in the service of his own progression. Cashing in for a big-money offer from MLS simply doesn’t fit into that narrative.

Of course, Clint Dempsey, who had a similarly careerist reputation, left Tottenham Hotspur for the Seattle Sounders last summer in a deal that will pay him some $6 million per year, with help from the league. But then Dempsey had already turned 30. Bradley’s salary in Europe was reportedly relatively modest for a club like Roma -- allegedly a shade over a million dollars per year -- but it still seems unlikely that money would sway him now.

Especially since Toronto FC would seem like such an unlikely destination. Bradley is an East Coaster, growing up in New Jersey and Chicago before shipping out to the under-17 academy in Florida and subsequently making his professional debut with the New York MetroStars. But Toronto is one of the league’s most dysfunctional teams. In Tim Leiweke the team’s parent company recently appointed the miracle worker who convinced David Beckham and Robbie Keane to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but still, it seems a leap.

Toronto FC, which is also rumored to be signing long-time England striker Jermain Defoe, teased a “bloody big deal,” to be announced on Monday, on Twitter.

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