TORONTO - Michael Bradley's wish list for Toronto FC is short and to the point. More quality and leadership/commitment.
"We need more good players, to put it simply," the star midfielder told reporters Friday. "Guys who can come in and, in a footballing sense, add something.
"And the other side of it is we need more guys with personality, more leaders, more competitors, more men. And that's not meant as any sort of disrespect to anyone who's here. But when you have a season that went the way ours did, we'd be naive if we didn't think all these things needed to be better, needed to improve.
"The goal here is to not just scrape through a season and maybe make the playoffs and maybe not on the last day. Yeah, we want to make the playoffs but there's much more to it. And to do that, to get to where we want to be, we need more good players and we need more winners, leaders, competitors — guys who come in every day ready to spill everything they have into it."
While Bradley says he is just a player, the 27-year-old may have a future in the front office. He essentially nailed what's needed by an 11-15-8 team that slid out of the playoff picture as the season wore on.
The former Roma star brings quality and commitment in spades. Referees, opponents, teammates and reporters have all been at the end of Bradley's laser-like eye contact.
Disappoint Bradley and you know about it — he will tell you, politely but very firmly, where you went wrong.
On the field, he positively smoulders. Bradley will stare at a referee who's standing by a controversial call that went against Toronto as if the official has a foot coming out of his forehead. His time in Italy seems to have left him with an arsenal of hand gestures.
Captain Steven Caldwell, goalie Joe Bendik, and Brazilian forward Gilberto brings the same kind of intensity to the TFC workplace.
Bradley, an influential U.S. international, showed his commitment in his debut season in Toronto, playing with a painful nerve issue in his foot. He tried assorted treatments, including injections to numb the foot, before going under the knife last week to have the offending nerve removed.
The surgery meant Bradley missed the team's end-of-season media availability. He made good on his commitment Friday, arriving on crutches which he said he is already fazing out.
His stitches are due to be removed next week and Bradley says he will be primed and ready for pre-season.
Whether he will be joined by star striker Jermain Defoe is not yet known, although the odds of the England star playing in Toronto again seem slim after the January transfer window.
But the team already has a Plan B in case and the rumour mill is already spitting out possible designated player replacements: Steven Gerrard and Wesley Sneijder are the latest names linked in reports to the club.
General manager Tim Bezbatchenko said the team is still in talks with Defoe about his future. But he seemed to hint about going a lower-profile route if Defoe's spot needed to be filled.
The money from any sale would be re-invested in the roster, Bezbatchenko told TSN Radio.
That could be "a player well-known or a player that maybe is a little bit less well-known but fits our team in terms of the needs that we have right now, in order to put a successful team on the field," he said.
"It's not about the name this time," he added. "Not that it was primarily last time. But we're about putting out a winning team next year. And that could come from a world-recognized name or it could come from a player from South America."
Toronto could use both a stud centre back, to complement Caldwell, and a playmaker in midfield.
Asked about Defoe, Bradley said the 32-year-old England striker was a good guy in the locker-room and has always shown he can score goals and trouble opponents.
He just has to decide where he wants to do it.
"For me, he needs to decide at this point where he is in his life and his career and what he wants," Bradley said. "I'm a firm believer that in life you have to find things that you are passionate about, that you stand for and you have to then be ready to go all-in.
"Ideally you want to do that with people with the same mentality, who have that same hunger and commitment."
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