For a lot of Toronto FC fans Michael Bradley presents a bit of a lesser known commodity. They can probably tell you the basics about how he is a good midfielder and a crucial member of the United States Men's National Team but beyond that the knowledge quickly fades. Next to Jermain Defoe, Bradley is not exactly a household name in Canada.
Head south of the border though and ask an American fan about Bradley and you will likely get quite the scouting report from them. South of the border the coverage of Bradley has dwarfed that of Defoe as he is one of their highest profile players and arguably their most talented heading into the World Cup this summer.
Since we don't all have an American to ask for a scouting report on Bradley we decided to ask for you. We got in touch with Ryan Rosenblatt who is a key contributor to SB Nation's US Soccer blog, Stars and Stripes FC. The following is what Ryan had to offer on TFC's newest midfielder:
Quite simply, Michael Bradley is the best player the United States has. Some might argue that point, but to put it bluntly, those people are insane. Bradley is the best and by some distance.
That said, Bradley is also overrated by a segment of American fans. While he is good enough to play for most teams in Europe, he's not a great, great player. He was a bench player for AS Roma, which is about fair for him. On one of the best teams in a major league, he is a substitute quality player. On a mid table team in one of the best leagues, he can be a very good player. That's his level.
In the U.S., Bradley is viewed as more of a holding midfielder because that is where he has been played more for the Yanks, but looking at him as such sells him short. He is capable going forward and calling him a holder sells not just his skill in the final third short, but it also doesn't give credit to his ability to defend high up the pitch as well.
Bradley is a classic box-to-box midfielder. He can play deep and is a very good tackler, capable of quickly transitioning the ball to spark a counter attack, but his late runs into the box also make him a threat to score a handful of goals a year. His fitness and work rate is unmatched and, as you would expect from a coach's son, he is very, very smart.
Once a hot-headed youngster, Bradley has learned how to control his tempter and is now very much a leader, albeit a fiery one. He's also developed his play, showing an understanding of when to hit shorter, more basic passes as well as the long diagonals he has always been good at, giving him a more varied passing game.
The question for Toronto is how do they use Bradley. They would be silly to make him a holding midfielder, but to play him as a true box-to-box player, where he can be the best midfielder in the league, requires finding the right pieces around him. Whether that's another capable box-to-box player or a holder behind him and attacker in front of him, which would requiring ditching the 4-4-2, TFC would be wise to make sure that Bradley has the freedom to make an impact going forward as much as he does dropping deep.
It is a glowing review of Bradley to say the least but it is a view that is widely held by people who have been watching Bradley play since he first stepped onto the scene as a teenager. He is a much different player than he was when he left MLS seven years ago as a 19-year-old. Not only has he matured into a leader to the point of some people referring to him as "the general" but he has also become a much more complete player.
Over the course of his career Bradley has filled a number of different roles in the midfield and done well in all of them. As Ryan pointed out though he is at his best when he is not limited to just one role and has the freedom to impact the game on both sides of the ball. It is unlikely that we will see the Bradley who scored 16 goals in one season for Heerenveen but it is just as unlikely that we will see Bradley being used as a true defensive midfielder like he is for the USMNT. Somewhere in between those two exists a sweet spot and the trick for TFC will be setting up the team around Bradley so that he can dominate the game.
It will be interesting to see how Nelsen uses Bradley this coming season. If he can get it right there is no reason that Bradley can't quickly establish himself as the best midfielder in MLS.