TORONTO – Michael Bradley may be pleased with his side’s season-opening 2-1 victory Saturday over the Seattle Sounders, but the American midfielder still sees plenty of work ahead for new-look Toronto FC.
Bradley and his fellow new Designated Player signing, Jermain Defoe, started their debut season with Toronto well enough, picking up all three points on CenturyLink Field’s artificial turf. Despite the result, Bradley said his team must learn to overcome less-than-perfect conditions on a regular basis to become a top contender.
“No team has any success if you only win on days when you play beautifully, when you play perfectly,” Bradley told MLSsoccer.com during a training session at BMO Field. “You have to know how to win games where things don’t go your way, you’ve got to earn it more, you’ve got to fight more. In those ways, Saturday was a big step for us.”
One area that Toronto FC struggled with against Seattle – and for much of last season – was in possession. Toronto managed to control 32.3 percent of the ball against the Sounders, and when asked on how to bump those numbers up, Bradley didn’t beat around the bush.
“Possession is such an overrated stat,” Bradley said, perking up a bit even after a tiring day of training.
He repeated: “Such an overrated stat.”
“I think, over the past few years, people have fallen in love with Barcelona,” Bradley continued. “How could you not? The way they play, the way they move, their ability to play in tight spaces and always find a free guy – it’s amazing to watch.
“The reality is there’s two, three teams who can play like that in the world and be successful and win: Barcelona, Spain and maybe now Bayern Munich.”
Bradley’s particular talents – closing down, turning over the ball, spreading the play out wide – are more in tune to a style of play he grew accustomed to while playing with the US national team. It’s a system Bradley is comfortable in.
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“When you watch Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid in the Champions League last year, who do you think had more possession in that game?” Bradley asked.
The answer is Madrid.
“But it wasn’t that close at the end, was it?” he continued.
Bradley is, of course, correct. Dortmund walked away from the game as 4-1 winners, each of Robert Lewandowski’s four goals exposing Madrid as they pushed forward.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t work on improving how we control games with the ball and control games by playing and moving, but there’s so much more to it,” Bradley said. “You have to have a way of playing and winning games that combines good football with mobility and aggressiveness and commitment to close down and make the game hard on the other team.”
His passion bleeds through without reservation. He’ll have another chance to prove those qualities against D.C. United in Toronto’s home opener on Saturday (4:30 pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS Live in USA). He’s clearly excited.
“I don’t think the game in Seattle had been over for five minutes before we started talking about what the atmosphere was going to be like here on Saturday,” Bradley said, with a smile.