CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan, one of the first US national team stars to spurn Europe for an MLS career, said Michael Bradley's reportedly imminent move to Toronto FC makes “a strong statement” and that he'll be happy to see the midfielder back in the league.
“I think it's a testament to our league that people want to come back and play here, particularly six months before a World Cup,” Donovan told reporters before the national team's training session Thursday morning at StubHub Center. “It's a strong statement. ... Michael's a smart guy. And I'm sure he's thought about this a lot, and it's something he wants to do, and it's great.”
Reports, confirmed by Bradley's European agent, have Bradley departing AS Roma to sign with TFC, a decision apparently tied to his dwindling playing time with the Italian Serie A club and the likelihood it would decrease with the arrival on loan of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan.
Bradley, 26, played under his father, Bob, with the MetroStars in 2004 and 2005 before heading to Europe and stints in the Netherlands with Heerenveen, in Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach, in England with Aston Villa and then Italy with Chievo Verona and Roma.
“I think all of us who know Tim [Leiweke, president and CEO of TFC ownership group Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment] closely knew that he would make a splash, and he did, and it's great for our league,” said Donovan, who worked with Leiweke during his stint as president and CEO of AEG, which owns the Galaxy. “It's great that another American player in [his] prime wants to come home and play here.”
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann declined to speak with media Thursday.
Bradley is the second prominent US player to return to MLS from Europe in the past half-year, following Clint Dempsey, who left Tottenham to sign with the Seattle Sounders last August.
Donovan was asked about their decisions, in light of perceptions that Bradley and Dempsey represented US players “chasing their dreams” in Europe.
“They are chasing their dreams,” Donovan said. “I think they made decisions that are good for them, just like everybody should.”
Donovan played four seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, then signed with MLS and joined the LA Galaxy in 2005 after a short stint with the German club. He has played on loan with Bayern Munich and Everton and there was interest elsewhere before he extended his contract with the Galaxy last August.
Donovan said the league is “a lot better” now than it was when he joined the Galaxy, and not just financially.
“It's more stable – in all ways – the coaching's better, the youth development is better, there's more media, there's more attention,” he said. “Everything is different and everything is constantly changing.
“We always say it's not where we want it to be, but when guys like Michael and Clint make decisions like that, when [Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez] and Sporting Kansas City standouts] Matt Besler and Graham Zusi make the decision to stay here when they could have gone abroad, it makes a big statement. The way you make the league better is by having better players, and certainly in the last six months, it's gotten two of our best players back in the league.”