Ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC Michael Bradley struck a contemplative tone before what could possibly be his final match with the club.
"When I came here I talked about how I was so excited and so motivated for the opportunity for the challenge of trying to help take a club that had so much potential in an incredible city – an incredible sports city – and make it different, make it special, unique, a team that people could be proud of," Bradley said. "Over the last five or six years, we’ve had some incredible days, some unbelievable highs with a few lows sprinkled in there, but what would life be if there weren’t a few lows tossed in, as well?"
Now in his sixth season with the Reds after coming over from Roma, the 32-year-old Bradley is out of contract at season's end, but head coach Greg Vanney hopes tha the Princeton, NJ native's stay will be extended and that the team may have a hand in making that happen.
“I’d like to think there’s going to be a solution - I’d like to think the solution is us winning and then we know he’s here," Vanney said, seemingly confirming The Athletic's Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal's report from July that an MLS Cup win would automatically kick in a $6.5 million option for the player for 2020.
Vanney was effusive in praise for his captain's work ethic and example that it sets for teammates.
"There are not many guys who are out there that you can bring to a club and they are the cornerstone of being able to change the culture of an entire club," Vanney said. "That’s what Michael has been able to bring to this team. He works tirelessly, every single day, never a day off. We have to wrestle him down to get him to rest at all. He works hard, he’s detail-oriented, he cares about every aspect of the club and trying to keep things at as high a level as possible."
As for Sunday's match, Bradley bristled at the suggestion that the Reds were underdogs in their third MLS Cup matchup with the Sounders in four seasons.
“We don’t think of ourselves as the underdog," Bradley said. "That’s for the media, that’s for you guys. We don’t think of ourselves as the underdog, we don’t think of ourselves as the favourite. We just think of ourselves as one of two teams in a final. We think if we step on the field, playing the right way and do all of the things that make us us, do all of the things that have gotten us here, then we have a big chance to win.”
Vanney concurred with Bradley's assessment.
"I think the expectation for [TFC players] is to win," Vanney said. "I think that’s what true professionals and competitors do, you expect yourself to go out and to win. So I think it’s everybody else who looks at them as underdogs and not necessarily this group themselves. And I think a little bit of that tag might be because we had a couple of guys injured and different reasons, but the group is very confident in themselves and each other and their preparation."
While playing in big matches is something TFC has grown accustomed to over the past several seasons, Bradley is encouraging his teammates to take in the moment.
"I think the mentality of the group is strong, so for me, it’s just enjoyment – the enjoyment of the moment," Bradley said. "The opportunity to play in a final doesn’t come around all the time, not even close. You have guys who play their whole careers and don’t win anything. So to have the opportunity to play in a final, you want to enjoy every part of it – enjoy the lead-in, enjoy the build-up because one day, there won’t be another one. You won’t have these opportunities and you’ll miss that."
TFC and the Sounders are set to kick off from CenturyLink Field in Seattle on November 10 at 3pm et/12pm pt.