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Columbus 'has not kept pace' with Major League Soccer - Michael Bradley

Despite a late rally by Columbus, an opening goal eluded both sides, and they head back to Toronto for a decisive second leg.
Julie Stewart-Binks catches up with Michael Bradley after Toronto FC managed a scoreless first leg at Columbus.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley said his team met its stated goal of walking away from the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals "with something," before weighing in on the Crew's future in Columbus.

TFC managed to secure a 0-0 tie against the Crew on a night when it was missing forwards Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco due to suspension. Toronto played a solid first half but then had to withstand a second half push from the Crew that required a stellar save from goalkeeper Alex Bono late in the match.

"One of the team's stated goals was to walk away from here with something," he said. "Whether it was a win, a tie, some away goals, we needed to leave here with the opportunity to finish things off at BMO [Field] next week. We did that."

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He added: "The mentality was excellent. I thought we handled things in a good way and we get to back to Toronto in front of 30,000 people next week with the season on the line knowing that a win gets us back in the final."

Bradley was booed by the crowd every time he touched the ball, a common occurrence on the road in the wake of the U.S. national team's elimination from World Cup qualifying last month. But Bradley insisted the verbal attention isn't something with which he's concerning himself.

"I've got bigger things to worry about than whether a few people in Columbus don't like [me]," he said.

Bradley was later asked for his thoughts on the possibility of the Crew leaving Columbus given that owner Anthony Precourt has announced he is exploring the possibility of moving the team to Austin, Tex.

"On one hand, you feel for the small group of loyal supporters that they have, who have been here since the beginning, who continue to support the team, and come out week after week," he said.

Michael Bradley was met with a hostile atmosphere at MAPFRE Stadium on Tuesday.

"On the other hand, you can't deny the fact that things here have really fallen behind in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium, the quality of the stadium, what it's like to play here. I don't know who is at fault for that. From what I gather, there's a lot going on and I get that.

"But as an outsider I don't know what that falls on. But again, the reality is just that as the league has continued to grow and grow -- and this isn't the only one -- this is one of a few markets that has not kept pace."

Now Bradley's focus will be on helping his team take care of business in the second leg.

"We continue to believe in ourselves in a big way," he said. "We've come a long way in terms of the improvement in our team, the mentality. Nobody is celebrating anything in here tonight, that's for sure.

"We handled things in a good, solid professional way. We wanted to win the game. Having said that, 0-0 is a result that still means we go back home next week and we've got 90 minutes to win a game and get ourselves back in the final.

"The atmosphere next week will be incredible, so we'll use that to help us in the best way, and we're going to be ready to go for it."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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