Toronto FC’s time to shine?
By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor
After seven years of playoff-less soccer, Toronto FC fans may finally have something to cheer about this season. In what has been a busy transfer window, with there still being rumblings of further acquisitions, the club has signed Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, and Gilberto to bolster the Reds’ lineup. The man behind it all? Tim Leiweke—famed for bringing David Beckham stateside.
Leiweke said of the TFC fans and the signings that, “These fans for seven years have been unbelievable. They changed the fortunes of this league, they changed the value of these clubs, they changed the environment in this community. They taught us all what it means to be a passionate fan of TFC. This is a payback to them today—they earned it, they deserve [it] and it’s full credit to you (sic) and your seven years.”
As much as Leiweke should be congratulated for swinging these deals, not enough can be said about the substantial financial backing he’s received. Defoe and Bradley’s transfer fees are rumoured to be in the $10-million range each, which makes the moves MLS records. Gilberto is comparatively cheap, coming in at a figure around $3-million.
The contracts are gargantuan commitments as well. Defoe is reported to have signed a deal that will pay him $8.3-million a season for four years while Bradley will rake in $6.5-million for six years. Figures aren’t available for Gilberto’s contract, but seeing as he’s listed as a designated player, he’ll be making upwards of $350,000.
While most fans will likely “ooh” and “ahh” over fringe England international Defoe, the more important signing is that of Bradley. Defoe is a 31-year-old striker who’s never been the best. Good, sure. Competent at times even. But he’s definitely had his share of struggles. When you can’t consistently start for England and their miserable mix of attackers, are you really such a much? He’ll provide a vastly improved attack for the Reds alongside Gilberto (not forgetting about Dwayne De Rosario, who has rejoined the club), but make no mistake, his best days are behind him.
Bradley is a different matter altogether. The 26-year-old American is a regular starter for the US and just getting into the prime of his career. He’s had some trouble getting into Roma’s lineup this season, but he’s proven himself in the top flight of Italian soccer with Chievo, earning the nickname “The General,” and put in some solid efforts in the capital as well. He’s a rock in the midfield—a hard-nosed defensive midfielder who’s also more than capable of distributing the ball effectively while contributing around the goal as well. TFC has never had a midfield to speak of. The failed Julian de Guzman experiment sums up their woes in the middle of the park nicely. Bradley can’t do it on his own, but he’s the kind of player you can build a team around.
The only confusion about Bradley should be why he’s returning to the MLS when he could still continue a successful career in Europe. He said of joining TFC: “What they’re trying to build is something really special, something unique, something different than anything else going on in Major League Soccer, and honestly, something different than anything going in North American soccer. As a player you want to be a part of something like that. … It took all of two seconds for me to understand that I would be coming to a place where I would be surrounded by people with that motivation and commitment.”
Sure, Mike. That, or the money.