He has the calibre to become a major star in the Major League Soccer (MLS), and could possibly one day succeed Landon Donovan at the top. Michael Bradley is a new figurehead in the professional league in the USA and Canada after eight years as a professional with top clubs in Europe. The 26-year-old midfielder signed with the Canadian club Toronto FC in January and was one of the outstanding players in the opening match on March 15. Toronto, who failed to meet expectations in previous years, won their important away match with Seattle Sounders 2-1. English international Jermain Defoe, who was also contracted prior to the new season, scored both goals for Toronto in front of 38,441 spectators. “That’s a strong debut for Jermain and me with this team. Although it was only the first match it showed we can certainly achieve something with the great mentality of this team”, said Bradley. His playing fitness was doubtful for a long period after he suffered a foot injury during the US national team’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine in an international friendly in Cyprus on March 5.
With this away success, Toronto became an outside bet to win the title at the end of 2014. Seattle, the club with the highest attendance figures in the MLS, had previously won their opener against reigning champions Sporting Kansas City 1-0 to show 39,420 spectators their strength – although Chad Barrett snatched the winning goal in the fourth minute of added time. The Seattle fans had to wait until the 68th minute at Century Link Field Stadium for a reason to cheer against Toronto, when Clint Dempsey brought the score back to 1-2. Defoe had powered his two goals in the first half. US international Dempsey joined Seattle last season from Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur for five million Euros, the highest transfer sum ever paid by an MLS club. After the conclusion of the MLS competitive year at the beginning of December 2013, he had been loaned to Fulham FC. The 31-year-old returned to the Sounders in time for the start of the new MLS season.
Prior to the encounter with Toronto, the Dempsey v Bradley duel dominated the headlines. Both are key players in the US national team and together they want to reach the knock-out stage at the 2014 World Cup finals, against group opponents Ghana, Portugal and Germany. But Dempsey was overshadowed by the two new Toronto stars in Seattle’s second match of the season. Defoe had been signed from Tottenham on March 1. Toronto had selectively contracted three top professionals with London-born striker Defoe, Bradley, who played from 2006 in Europe with SC Heerenveen, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Aston Villa, Chievo Verona and AS Rome, and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The club, with whom the former German international Torsten Frings played until the beginning of last year, desperately want to return to the top of the MLS. Another Canadian club, Montreal Impact, had achieved a significant performance leap. But Montreal suffered two defeats, to FC Dallas (3-2) and Houston Dynamo (1-0), at the start of the new season.
The defeat of champions Kansas City was not the only surprise at the start of the MLS season on March 8 and 9. A convincing 4-1 victory by the Vancouver Whitecaps over the New York Red Bulls in front of 32,100 spectators was as unexpected as Los Angeles Galaxy’s 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at home (25,534 spectators). Toronto did not play on the first weekend. Title holders Kansas couldn’t manage a win on the second competitive day either. Cheered on by 19,431 fans at their home stadium, Sporting had to be content with a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas. However, during the week Kansas had won their home match 1-0 against Cruz Azul, as had LA Galaxy with the same result against Club Tijuana, in the Central and North American Champions League.
New York had to be satisfied with a 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew in their second match in front of a 20,542 crowd, following their opening thrashing by Vancouver. Highlight of the match was a scoring flying header by veteran Henry Thierry. A spectacular encounter between San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake ended in a 3-3 draw (10,525 spectators). Former German international Andreas Goerlitz, who is reported to have signed a contract with San Jose at the beginning of March, was not in the squad.