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Michael Bradley Finally Leading By Example

Like others, Toronto's captain had a bit of a MLS learning curve. But he is starting to show that he is a talented student as he is at the heart of the club's recent success.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago the Toronto FC dressing room was buzzing with excitement after the team's victory over the Portland Timbers. Rap music curated by defender Warren Creavalle blared over the speakers. In each player's locker there was an open beer can, likely provided by a sponsor and mostly untouched but a sign of victory nonetheless.

Then there was Michael Bradley, sitting calmly at his locker waiting for media with an emotionless face. He was happy with the result, he explained, but that doesn't mean the team can't do a better job. He's right, this team still has a lot of work to do before there is truly anything to celebrate.

It's also par for the course when it has come to Bradley lately: he has learned the league and is clearly starting to feel at home. This is his team now, more than any player before him, and he doesn't seem prepared to let it drag him down.

But while Bradley's demeanor off the field has noticeably been different, like the team he took a little bit of time to get into gear on it. In Toronto's home opener against the Houston Dynamo he was self-admittedly poor, giving away a needless penalty that proved to be a big difference maker.

After that match, however, being pushed up the field has meant Bradley is finally in a position to succeed in Toronto.

Succeed he has, playing some of his best soccer in his entire time with the club. Two matches later he scored an incredible goal and was player of the game against the New England Revolution. The balls he has been playing are better, he has looked far more dangerous and as a result the team hasn't skipped a beat since losing Jozy Altidore.

The idea of a more forward thinking Bradley was to get him closer to Toronto's other designated players, and the chemistry they have developed was never clearer than when that happened.

It was also potentially proof of something that has long plagued Toronto FC: the fact that deep midfielders don't really work as successful designated players. The further back the field Bradley was pushed, and the more defending he was forced to do, the worse he looked.

This isn't to say that Bradley is bad in his own half of the park, but was forced at times to play as a third centreback because of bad team defending that often left him exposed.

Julian De Guzman and Torsten Frings both faced similar problems, class players before coming to MLS but forced to play too much defense without the pieces around them.

The only player to ever really succeed in this role is Benoit Cheyrou, but it is his natural position and he does have the pieces around him.

There does have to be something said about how much Cheyrou has contributed to the revival of Bradley. The Frenchmen holds the fort behind Bradley, and allows the American to do what he does best.

But just because all of the pieces have fallen into the right place for Bradley doesn't mean he shouldn't get his fair share of credit for what this team has been accomplishing as of late.

Remaining critical of Bradley is completely fair, he should be held to a higher standard than any other player on the team. Not only is he one of Toronto's designated players and their captain, but they have made it abundantly clear that this is his team.

Right now, however, his team is succeeding and as a result he deserves praise for what he brings to the pitch and what that means in terms of opening the pitch up to others.

Sebastian Giovinco, and to some extent Jozy Altidore, are always going to steal the headlines in Toronto, but Michael Bradley is the heart of this team. As long as the heart keeps beating at its current pace, everything might just turn out alright after all.