National Writer: Charles Boehm

Michael Bradley calls time on legendary career: "It never felt like work"

Michael Bradley - Toronto FC

Michael Bradley was reflective and serene as he addressed the media in Toronto on Friday, taking stock of his soccer journey one day before the final match of his groundbreaking 20-year professional playing career.

As the Reds wind down what has been a profoundly difficult 2023 season marked by internal strife, constant losses, a hamstring injury that sidelined Bradley for months and the dismissal of his father Bob, TFC’s former head coach and sporting director, the USMNT legend is secure in his conviction that this is the right moment to pivot towards his next chapter.

“At the beginning of the season it wasn't even on my radar, it wasn't something that I was thinking about in any big way,” Bradley said of his decision to retire. “I wasn't naive. I knew that obviously given my age and given where I was in my career, that I wasn't planning for 10 more years. But I still felt really good. I was as motivated as ever. And I thought that we were on a good track in terms of getting things back going around here.

“And as the year played out, obviously with my injury and with my dad getting fired, yeah, little by little it just started to feel like there was going to be a real chance that this was the right time. I love this city. I have never stopped for one single second in 10 years trying to do everything I could to help us be successful. And that was no matter the circumstances. But you get to a point, and you look at the things going on around you, you look at yourself, you look at your family, you try to take all of that into account and now think through things in a real way.”

He’s looking forward to one more runout at BMO Field when Toronto FC host Orlando City SC on Saturday evening (6 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), a chance to say goodbye to the club and community that embraced him and his family over the past decade.

“As a competitor and as someone who loves this club, and is so proud of who we are, what we've done, to end after a season like this – maybe in a perfect world, that's not the way it would go,” said Bradley. “But then you start thinking about the other side, and I'm really excited about the next chapter of my life and my career. I know what I want to do, I'm excited by that, as motivated as can be to try to coach and to try to become the best possible coach that I can be, to coach at the highest level I can.”

Toronto FC legend

Bradley’s career spans two continents as well as two eras in North American soccer history. After breaking onto the scene as one of US soccer’s first teenage phenoms with the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) in 2004, he moved across the Atlantic to star in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, then returned to MLS as a showcase signing for TFC in 2014 – a time when the Canadian club was synonymous with galling underperformance.

He, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco would lead the Reds into the league’s elite, reaching three MLS Cup finals, a Concacaf Champions League final, hoisting four Canadian Championships and winning everything on offer in a 2017 treble campaign with no equal in MLS history.

“It exceeded my expectations, without a shadow of a doubt,” Bradley said of his TFC experience. “I can remember when I first got here, people looking at me like I was crazy, asking me if I was crazy. And then obviously others who just thought that I was packing it in early and taking a big paycheck.

“And I said to people at the time that wasn't true. I said to people at the time that I was hell-bent on trying to come here and do everything I could to take what I thought could be such a special club and help turn it into something… there hasn't been one part of it that's been easy. But it has given me some of the proudest, most rewarding moments of my life and my career.”

Turning to coaching

Saturday also marks the first match in the technical area for new TFC head coach John Herdman. While Herdman says he tried to convince Bradley to stick around and be part of the Reds’ rebuild for another year or two, he found the cerebral 36-year-old to be laser-focused on diving headlong into the coaching profession.

“This is a genuine legend that's going to leave the club,” said Herdman. “I asked him to give some time to reflect, give us some time to show what it could look like next year. But he’s pretty clear, he's excited about the coaching and ready to take that journey.”

Bradley quietly completed his UEFA B-level coaching license via the Wales FA earlier this year, and plans to complete his UEFA A next year. While he says he doesn’t have a specific job lined up yet, he, his wife Amanda and their two children will leave Toronto in search of new adventures – wherever his new career leads them.

“This will always be a really, really special place for us. As a family, we need new experiences. My kids need to see something else. My kids need to be challenged in new ways. I need to be challenged in new ways again,” he said.

“On a human level now, up until the time I came here, that was such a part of who I was: I was two, three years somewhere and then always trying to move on to the next place, always trying to challenge myself, take myself to a new level. And I found something here that I had never had before in my life, and I loved every part of it. But I feel like now again in my life, my career, for my family, it's a really good time to start a new chapter.”

At peace

From the 2017 treble and two solid World Cups with the USMNT to the gut-wrenching failure of the star-crossed 2018 qualifying campaign, a fiasco for which he and Altidore bore the brunt of the public blowback, Bradley’s career featured lofty highs and brutal lows.

He embraces it all.

“I love the game. I love every part of it. I love to train, I love to play, I love the grind,” he said. “Sure, there are good moments, there are bad moments. There are moments where things come together in the way that you want, other moments where you feel like you're having to scratch and claw just to keep your head above water.

"But I love it all. And so it never felt like work. I never took one second for granted. I enjoyed every single part of it.”