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TFC Season Ending Press Conferences – Bradley

An inside look at the Michael Bradley End of Season Press Conference, including his injury, the club's future, and, of course, Jermain Defoe

tough question
tough question
Kevin C. Cox

Bright and early, back up at the training complex at Downsview Park this morning, the last of the season-ending press conferences took place with Michael Bradley stepping in front of the cameras and behind the microphone to answer a series of questions.

After a pleasant enough trip up North – and some rather silky guitar playing at the Downsview Bus Terminal – I arrived back in the frozen wiles of the upper wastelands of the city for the conference. Frozen is an apt term for the bite in the air. I had not noticed it when I got going this morning, but as the sky grew larger and the wind unrestrained by interminable buildings, that this was indeed November, soon became apparent; a little too apparent for comfort.

The Canadian Geese were doing their thing, flying in fractured V's as they braced for the long off-season flight down to warmer climes. For Toronto  FC, their flight South, away from the brisk chill of winter, must wait a few months for pre-season, but rest assured, between then and now there will be much preparation. It was a fitting scene to close the door on the 2014 season and look forward to the next.

Having missed out on Player Media Day last week, Bradley and the club were kind enough to recall the  unwashed media masses for a chance to speak with the American International, one last look at what happened this season and on to the next.

Michael was unavailable for the previous discussions because he was having surgery on the nerve in his foot that had been causing him trouble all season – more on that in the opening question of the day – and he entered the building on crutches, nursing his healing foot.

As such, he made a rather ginger entrance, taking his place in front to field questions. Before diving into the content, a few notes on Bradley himself.

I was rather struck by how soft-spoken he was, his answers at times barely audible from the cheap-seats at the back – I had to move forward and strain at times to hear from behind the camera-battery. It was also curious how considered he was in each response, choosing and measuring his words as he went on, occasionally pausing to be sure he had his phrasing correct. It was in no way a confrontational or accusatory interview – those barbs having been expended on Tim Bezbatchenko last week – but Bradley was certain to project the exact meaning of his words.

The Injury

The first question involved how he was feeling and what was the exact procedure he underwent. He responded that he was doing well and feeling fine, but that it was a minor nerve issue that needed clearing up, one that he never quite had the time to address in the midst of the season, but that now, with a few months of rest ahead, was that time to have the troublesome nerve removed.

He was then asked if he had been playing in pain throughout the season. Rather than emphasize his martyrdom, Bradley spoke about how as a footballer, one's feet are their livelihood, if the feet are feeling good then you are feeling good, admitting that it did bother him a bit this year. He related that he learned long ago that as a professional athlete, especially in such a rigorous discipline, there are very few days when one feels perfect, one has to get on with the task at hand in spite of such bothers. All that said, he was happy to get the surgery out of the way and excited to get back to training, after giving the injury the time it needs.

The conversation turned to the time-line of the injury, when did it first occur and when did it flare up enough to require surgery. Michael recalled in detail that it had been bothering him for about a year, after picking up an ankle knock in a World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica that set off the problem. Since then it had been an on and off problem that progressively deteriorated over the course of the season.

He was then asked if the last few months in particular had been about pain management. Again dismissing the potential of bigging up the play-through-the-pain meme, Bradley said that for the majority of the year he felt good and it was only a minor concern that, if a problem, could be numbed up a bit in order to play at nearly his full capability. In no way was he hobbled – one-footed, as he put it – and playing through such circumstances is part of what being a competitor is about.

When asked about whether he would be available for the US National Team and when he would return to training, Michael skillfully overlooked the first half of the question, stressing instead that he would be giving the foot the time it needs to heal before getting back to work without pushing the injury prematurely. As mentioned, part of the reason to have the procedure now was to allow it the necessary time to be back ready to go in pre-season. The stitches would be coming out on Thursday and then he could step up his rehab regiment in preparation.

The only real noteworthy part of this section was that it is an injury that he carried over with him from Roma. One could get in a huff about signing an injured player or something like that, but to do so would be storming in a teacup.

Toronto & Greg Vanney

With a full season in Toronto under his belt, Bradley was then asked if he was optimistic about the club's future. He replied he was downright excited for it as a matter of fact, noting that yes, they had to improve and some players would be moving on and some new ones coming in – an inevitability in pro sports.

Attention turned to the mood in the locker room, and here Michael was adamant that there was a definite feeling that things were getting better. Of course, the season didn't finish as they had hoped – i.e. in the playoffs – and that was a disappointment. But he stressed that they were moving in the right direction, they needed to get the right types of players (and men) in, requiring everybody be on the same page, with the same desire and commitment.

He then spoke of encouraging signs under the brief managerial reign of Greg Vanney, referring to the games at the end of the season, each with positives to take and build upon. It was always going to be a difficult start after that tumultuous weekend and a pair of matches in quick succession, but after that there were noticeable advances from an organizational standpoint and in terms of the side's tactical understanding.

For Bradley, the failures still came down to the ability to make plays – the final pass, the finish, the required defensive interventions – but there were lessons to be learned in order to come back next year ready to go from the first day of pre-season.

Jermain Defoe & Players

The unavoidable question about Defoe was asked, to which Bradley first responded that Defoe was never an issue in the dressing room – pointing out that as a teammate he was a good guy, always smiling, and talkative, full of jokes.

As to whether Defoe would be back, Bradley responded that only he (Defoe) could answer that question. Bradley was then rather candid in assessing Defoe's position, stating that he needed to decide where he is in his life and career, and where he wanted to be. In life, one has to find their passions, things they stand for, and go all in on them. For his team, Bradley wants people with the same mentality, the same hunger and commitment, if not, it is difficult to enjoy and be all in.

Settling with the statement that if focused and committed, it would be fantastic to have Defoe at TFC; they want good players.

On the subject of needs, Bradley emphasized that concept of good players, stressing that there is always room for more quality, but adding that the team needs more personality, more leaders, and more competitors as well. Not as a knock on the current side – he meant no disrespect, he said so – but in terms of teams need to always be looking to improve and that given the end to the season, they obviously need to be better.

For a team whose goal is not just to scrape into the playoff, but be a contender, there is always room for more quality and more leadership.

With the Defoe Question out of the way – not that that would be the last we'll be hearing of him this off-season – the talk turned to specifics of what the team needed. Bradley was first asked if he would have a role in identifying players for the brain-trust, a notion he downplayed, emphasizing that he was a player, but that he would help in any way he could.

When asked if the club needed a true number ten, a designated playmaker behind the forward(s), Bradley wouldn't say it was an absolute necessity. If the opportunity comes to acquire such a player, one who fits the side, then welcome, but there are a lot of different ways to play the game.

Already under Vanney players have been given different roles and it was far more important to be difficult to play against, to do so with a good tempo, and be dangerous, all of which can be done without a true playmaker.  There are a lot of ways to be a good and successful team, the guys there needed to push and improve, while adding the right pieces.

This segment closed with by briefly discussing what he likes in midfield partner – there was little by way of concrete preferences here, instead saying that every time he steps on the field he does so to win and make every one better, no matter who is on the field. He wants to take a big role and has a good idea of how best to help the team.

Intangibles, CBAs & MLS

The concept of intangible qualities and whether they were hard to find. Bradley put it simply – they were the difference between a good club and a bad one, going on to say that the longer he has played, the more he has realized how special these qualities are, they provide the substance, the difference between winning and losing.

That is not to say that lacking these qualities was the root of TFC's downfall. At times, sure, Bradley admitted, but they often had nothing to do with the current failures, preferring instead to point to the aforementioned lack of execution.

Michael then made one of the more interesting points of the session, a rather unprompted one at that. To his mind, for Toronto to grow and get better they must check all the boxes. A number ten will not solve the issues, no single player or thing will fix the problems. In order to build something special, a club with substance, every part has to continue to improve.

The players, those here and those that will be here, need to carry that substance with them in everything: in how they train, in how they carry themselves off the pitch; it is a mentality that they must adopt.

Far too often this club has looked to put out fires, looked to bring in the one guy that will cure all that ails. For Bradley, it is the holistic approach that is best, constantly looking to raise every aspect, rather than focus on one particular need. That is a mindset that is sorely needed.

On the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, Bradley noted the growth of the league and the need for an improved deal, advocating for one that makes sense for all parties. He is proud of how much it has improved in recent years and the next step is to continue that incremental progression – a theme re-emerges. For the players, the hope is that the league recognizes the contributions that they have made to the growth.

Time for one final question, a good one at that, regarding how the league has evolved since he was last here – with New York back in 2005. For Bradley it was now an entirely different league, in terms of ownership, in terms of media attention; it was bigger, it was better, and everybody was excited to be a part of that continued growth.

And with that the conference ended; alas there were no sandwiches to be had.

There were a few issues that I would have liked to hear – what his off-season plans involved, whether he would be sticking around in Toronto for the winter (I'm always curious about that sort of thing, whether the player has taken to the city enough to not flee at the first sign of snow) – but on the whole it was interesting; nothing blistering, but good. Bradley is an impressive character and TFC is very lucky to have him.

It has been said the chance to acquire Bradley in the off-season came as a surprise, something that had not been planned, but was too good to pass up. I myself have argued that it may have thrown a spanner in the works, trying to play two types of game at the same time,  with little time to acclimate the three new players who were each expected to have major roles in the team.

This season, with the adjustment to a new league, a new calendar, and a new quality of officiating – nobody dared ask about that – was likely a bridge too far, and for all their past suffering, TFC fans, myself included, were a little to eager to accept the hype – admirable, but foolhardy; fanaticism is not a rational art.

With a fit Bradley in the middle of the pitch, things can only get better.