The Odd Atmosphere Around Toronto FC's Michael Bradley

By Grant Burkhardt
Michael Bradley
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

On a beautiful Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Michael Bradley was playing soccer well. Crew Stadium resembled a concert ground, with cars crammed onto grass fields between the arena and the train rails that mark the end of the grounds. It was a perfect day for MLS, or for any sport, or for any thing that anyone wants to do outdoors. Bradley was playing soccer well.

On a beautiful Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, the members of the Hudson Street Hooligans and the Crew Supporters Union filled a corner of the stadium and hurled insults at Bradley.

Just a few months before, Bradley was playing soccer in Brazil as part of the 23-man American roster. He, along with the whole side, carried big, but tempered, expectations to the World Cup. Group of death, no Landon Donovan, etc. etc. Few expected the U.S. Men’s National Team to get out of that group, but it did, largely without the assistance of Bradley, who struggled mightily. Michael Bradley, who plays soccer well, didn’t play soccer well in South America in June 2014.

In Columbus in August 2014, Ohioans were reminding the midfielder, a fellow American, of his prior failings.

He choked in Brazil

He choked in Braziiiiil

F— Michael Bradley

He choked in Brazil

While the supporters of the Columbus Crew chanted and jeered, Michael Bradley continued to play soccer well.

More than 20 rows above and two sections to the side of the epicenter of those rowdies, a plump man with a large upper-arm tattoo swallowed a soda and joined in, yelling obscenities at the best player on the field that night. Two seats down from that man was a young child wearing the popular popsicle USMNT jersey. “BRADLEY” and “4” were on the back. The boy’s father was not pleased with the man with the arm tattoo.

This was a snippet of the atmosphere that surrounds Toronto FC‘s Michael Bradley in his home country. It’s sport, and all is fair game when you’re in an away stadium, I suppose, but it all seemed a bit harsh. Bradley obviously struggled on the world’s biggest international soccer stage, playing overstretched soccer out of his natural position, but the reaction on that Saturday felt less like an educated response to that underachievement and more like a group of fans using their club’s team colors as an excuse to take out their own frustrations that Bradley didn’t provide the performance they wanted from him in Brazil.

It was all a bit misplaced, like a helicopter parent living vicariously through their kid or the faction of rabid sports fans who use the term “unacceptable” when describing a player’s on-field mistakes, like they’re the ones tasked with judging what is acceptable on a pitch or even off it. That kind of talk makes me uncomfortable.

In this case, those supporters in Columbus, Ohio, USA would have been better off really watching what Bradley was doing on the field to their beloved Crew. Bradley was carving them apart. At one point, after the sun had set on Crew Stadium, Bradley changed the field with a graceful, cloud-grazing pass. That pass that led to a scoring opportunity not long after, and the man with the arm tattoo mouthed “wow” to his friend standing near. He nodded. So did the 11,000 or so in attendance.

Michael Bradley was wearing away colors and left Columbus victorious, but he also wears his country’s colors, and as he does on most nights, he was playing soccer well.

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