There are a lot of things that Michael Bradley is not.
He’s not a goalscorer, he’s not a flashy player and he sure as hell isn’t good at growing hair. He is, however, arguably the most important player in Toronto FC’s lineup.
Through the first three games of 2017, he’s one of just five Reds to play all 270 minutes. In that time, the captain has played 220 passes, including an astounding 96 in TFC’s most recent game in Vancouver.
Bradley sits eighth in MLS in passes per game, with an 81.8% completion rate. That alone makes him a valuable holding midfielder, as a tactical passing machine.
Take a look at his work from the Vancouver game:
Bradley seems to be part of every TFC effort, either offensive or defensive. From his spot in central midfield, he often acts as the trigger for an attacking move, picking the right pass to send a couple of players into the final third. When coming back the other way, he’s right there to support the back three, at times even slotting in with them when needed:
Basically, Bradley is everywhere for TFC. He’s the commander in midfield, and is usually the one to direct attacking players and send in the pass. When the other midfielders are under pressure going forward, the first outlet they look for is Bradley, who will reset the play.
Watch him here as he picks the ball out of a sloppy situation. He secures possession and moves forward, looking to attack. He doesn’t like what he sees (Tosaint Ricketts looks a little too crowded for that pass to come to anything, plus Alejandro Bedoya is a little too close for comfort), so he turns around to start over.
Bradley will play it all the way back to the defenders so that TFC can set up in a more advantageous way rather than lose the ball on a risky attacking move.
Few players in MLS can match Bradley’s composure on the ball, as I think we can see from that clip. At no time when he has the ball does he seem panicked, or anything but confident.
Let’s look at a few more clips showing how useful and multi-talented Bradley can be. The nice thing about looking out for him on the pitch is that I’m pretty sure his shiny head can be seen from space.
TFC have gotten a lot of flak recently for relying on the long ball too much. That’s definitely a fair criticism, with many of them putting a stop to genuine attacking efforts. Still, Bradley’s ability to pick out a target from afar is pretty impressive. He’s averaging 6.7 successful long balls per game, putting him 10th in MLS (seventh among players who’ve appeared in three games).
I’m using this military analogy a lot, but he really is TFC’s general in midfield. Watch him command the attack here, playing in the long ball he wants (to be honest I think he was looking for Jonathan Osorio, which also would’ve been a good play, but regardless it worked out).
He’s even better from set pieces, which is why I think he should be taking corners over Sebastian Giovinco. This one is a beautiful ball that finds Nick Hagglund, who just misses:
And this one is a gorgeous lob over the top to Justin Morrow, who finishes nicely:
This next clip I really like. Bradley may instill a sense of calm in his teammates, but as a 6’2” rock-solid presence who can make a key tackle when needed, he’s not someone you want breathing down your neck.
Here, the pass is played past him, so he pressures Jordan Allen hard, forcing him to panic and take a low-danger shot rather than look for another option:
Finally, no pass is safe when Michael Bradley is around. To save you some scrolling, I’ve put together three separate clips of him thinking quickly on his feet, running to the perfect spot, and intercepting a dangerous pass. The latter two both turned a potential threat into a TFC attack in the blink of an eye.
Just watch how he identifies where the ball is going immediately and seems to already have a target in mind before he’s even made the interception:
Really, no other player could captain this team. Bradley’s composure, passing ability and quick thinking lie at the heart of TFC’s success — when he’s on his game, the team is on their game tactically. He’s even the public voice of the team.
Serving as the link between defence and attack, Bradley has settled very nicely into his role as the lone holding midfielder. He seems to do best when relied upon to connect everything and dole out attacking opportunities.
The Yankee General may fly a little under the radar at times, and he does have his faults — he’s not very fast, sometimes his tackles are clumsy and (once again) he’s quite follicly challenged.
But he might just be the most crucial piece of TFC’s big red machine. And they’d better hope he’s fit to play on Friday.