BOCA RATON, Florida – Michael Bradley is back with the United States national team for the first time since the World Cup ahead the team’s friendly against Honduras on Tuesday (8 pm ET; ESPN/UniMas), and head coach Jurgen Klinsman is keen to see how Bradley has dealt with a troubled season for Toronto FC.
The Reds are still mathematically alive in the MLS postseason race, but it’s been a season filled with disappointment in Toronto. The club parted ways with head coach Ryan Nelsen earlier this year and haven’t fared much better under interim boss Greg Vanney, and it appears they’ll miss the playoffs despite the lucrative additions of Bradley and striker Jermain Defoe earlier this year.
“We obviously follow every one of them in their club environment and it didn’t go really well for Michael – at all,” Klinsmann said Monday. “Coming back into the national team environment – he wasn’t with us in the Czech Republic purposely because he wanted him to continue fighting for a playoff spot with Toronto. We will see now where he is at. We see how he deals with all these issues. It looks pretty much like they are not making the playoffs even if they mathematically have a chance, it’s a very little one.
“We will see how he deals with that disappointment.”
Klinsmann – who has never shied away from reminding his players how he wants to see them playing at the highest level possible – raised questions in the past about Bradley’s decision to leave AS Roma to join Toronto, and again touched upon that concern on Monday.
“Making that decision going from Roma – a Champions League team to Toronto that now seems like they are not even qualifying for the playoffs – it is a huge disappointment,” he said. “That comes along with [how you need to] adjust yourself to whatever environment you are in … he has to adjust to the environment that he is in with Toronto instead of maybe an environment that plays Champions League football.
“He is going through that experience now and still coming in now, the first time since the World Cup -- he has to prove that he hasn’t lost a bit,” Klinsmann added. “Obviously we will keep working and pushing, but it is down to him and his environment, what level he is capable to play.”
Bradley – who played every minute of four games in the World Cup for the US this summer – said he believes that he has been able to continue to develop as a player despite the setbacks Toronto have suffered this season.
“There are obviously two parts to it as always – the team’s success and performance and then individually how you are able to work and improve and continue to push yourself along,” Bradley said. “I think despite a less than successful season on a team level, I have still found ways to push myself and improve.”
While he isn’t going to deny the disappointment of a season when Toronto entered on a crescendo of excitement, Bradley is quick to place the team’s performances in context.
“Certainly one of the qualities of the league as a whole is that it is competitive and the difference on a lot of days between most teams is very small,” he said. “For us, I think we were a little too inconsistent and dropped too many points on days when we shouldn’t have and that means when you get to the end of the season and you are adding up points, it means you are going to be a little bit short.”
But the midfielder doesn’t appear to believe that wholesale changes will be needed for Toronto to make a stronger impact next season.
“We are honest enough with ourselves to know that we need to get better, we need to improve and there needs to be a few additions in the right area,” he said. “But to act like now it was so far away or miles away is not accurate.”
And until Toronto FC are officially eliminated, Bradley isn’t willing to give up on this season yet.
“Until the table says that there is no possible way then we are going to continue to play and push ourselves,” he said, “and try to see if there is something there for us.”