Toronto FC: No need to criticize Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley of Toronto FC drives the ball during the second leg match of the final between Chivas and Toronto FC as part of CONCACAF Champions League 2018 at Akron Stadium on April 25, 2018 in Zapopan, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Michael Bradley of Toronto FC drives the ball during the second leg match of the final between Chivas and Toronto FC as part of CONCACAF Champions League 2018 at Akron Stadium on April 25, 2018 in Zapopan, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

With several key players injured or out for Toronto FC, Michael Bradley is one of the few who has remained in the action all season long.

A particularly depleted defence for Toronto FC without the likes of Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga has left an obvious void in that role. The two have been out for quite some time, and it remains to be seen as to when they can both return to the starting 11.

The vacancy has given Greg Vanney a serious decision to make in the centre-back role. Usually, a shift in tactics would fill the absence of the manager’s regular defenders. Gregory van der Wiel could play alongside Jason Hernandez in the centre of the defence, with Auro on the outside with Nick Hagglund.

However, Vanney seems to prefer the formation he’s running now. Instead of substituting one defender for another, or even looking to TFC II for other options, Vanney elected to move Bradley to the back-line instead, from his regular central defensive-midfielder role.

This has come with a lot of concern on both the parts of Bradley and Vanney. The American skipper has played at centre-back for a good month now, but the results have remained the same.

Where Bradley really got called out was the last fixture away to the Columbus Crew. Despite recording a decent three tackles and four interceptions, a lousy attempt at a tackle inside the box to Gyasi Zardes gave the Crew a penalty, and thus, the goal to come from behind to earn a draw.

It seemed like a midfielder’s attempt at a tackle. A very aggressive and pressing form of defending, rather than trying to cover shooting angles and timing a specific challenge.

Social media has been buzzing about Bradley on the back-line seemingly ever since he started featuring there. The 30-year-old received a lot of punishment from the supporters after the challenge, but the criticism was very unwarranted.

With how many players are out at the moment, especially in defence, winning t the rate TFC were doing this time last season is a stretch. The Reds tend to be very pushing at the back, with the focus shifted towards getting the ball forward. Yet, players on the defence at this moment of time simply cannot perform at the level of Mavinga or Morrow, for example.

Instead it’s conservative play, so Toronto doesn’t get caught on the counter. Bradley, even though he might get carried away, looks to just be following instructions from his manager.

And again, he isn’t really doing a bad job with it either. According to WhoScoredBradley averages around two tackles and one interception per game, while maintaining an average match rating of 6.76, which is tied for the highest defensive rating in the current squad.

The other simple fact that Bradley is willing to play there for Toronto shows passion and commitment to his teammates and his manager. Bradley, like everyone else on the squad, knows the current situation and what has to be done to put points on the MLS table.

Draws aren’t the most exciting result, but they are a whole lot better than losses for consecutive weeks. The football isn’t the best, but chances are, TFC are just waiting for their regulars to come back, to start a leap towards a playoff spot in the standings.

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Mavinga is expected to be in training either this week or next, while Morrow could be making significant steps towards recovery soon. From there, Bradley will surely be asked to shift back to his usual role, where supporters are more comfortable with him playing.

If anything, the management can take some fault for this one. Lacking the signings needed for both the extended run in the Champions League and MLS has shown the weaknesses in depth; something which was not addressed.

It will hopefully be back to normal soon, but for now, give some slack to the captain. Bradley is a professional footballer, but it’s not too often that players get asked to switch to different parts of the pitch. The American is simply trying to do a different job at the same pace as before, which should ultimately be taken as a positive.

TFC continue their short road trip as they take on the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium on Friday. Catch coverage for that match and much more relating to Toronto FC right here at Tip of the Tower.

Next: Sebastian Giovinco breaks another MLS record

Does Bradley deserve the criticism that is coming his way? Is it his fault for playing a new position, or the fault of the management for not addressing the depth of the team? Let us know in the comments section below.