Jurgen Klinsmann: Michael Bradley must prove MLS move hasn't hurt him
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Jurgen Klinsmann will be watching veteran midfielder Michael Bradley extra closely when the national team takes on Honduras at FAU Stadium on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).
The U.S. coach said Bradley, who started every game for the Americans at the last two World Cups, has to show that spending this season playing for hapless Toronto FC -- all but eliminated from the MLS playoff race for the eighth consecutive season with Saturday's 3-1 loss at New York -- hasn't hurt his game.
"He has to prove that he hasn't lost a bit," Klinsmann said at his pre-match news conference on Monday. "We'll see now where he's at. Obviously it looks pretty much like they're not making the playoffs even if they mathematically [have] a chance.
"We'll see now how he deals with that disappointment. ... It's down to him and his environment to see what level he's capable to play."
On Sunday, Bradley rejoined the U.S. squad for the first time since helping it advance to the second round at the World Cup in Brazil.
He shrugged off Klinsmann's suggestions that missing the MLS playoffs will affect his performances for the national team.
"I think despite a less than successful season on a team level, I have still found ways to push myself and improve," Bradley said.
The 27-year-old signed with TFC in January after eight seasons in Europe, most recently with Italy's AS Roma. The move wasn't without its detractors at the time -- not least Klinsmann, who has said repeatedly that he would prefer his top players to remain in Europe's top circuits.
Roma was well on its way to securing a berth in Europe's vaunted Champions League at the beginning of this year; since Toronto's inception in 2007, it has been the least successful club on the field in MLS.
In an attempt to lure back some of the fans it had lost over the years, Toronto signed Bradley and former England striker Jermain Defoe during the offseason to deals that, including transfer fees, were worth more than $100 million. Bradley's contract made him the second-highest paid player in the league -- behind only U.S. teammate Clint Dempsey -- with a guaranteed salary of $6.5 million this season.
On Monday, Klinsmann said he understood the financial incentive for players like Bradley and Dempsey, who joined the Seattle Sounders from English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur in 2013, to return to the league that launched their careers. He also reiterated his belief that the quality of MLS, while improving, can't keep his players as sharp as competing in Europe's top leagues would.
"I made it clear with Clint's move back and [Bradley's] move back that it's going to be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were, Klinsmann said. "Reality is that both players making that step means that you are not in the same competitive environment that you were before.
"It's not easy for Michael, and it's not going to be easy in the future."