TORONTO — It took a lot longer than expected for Michael Bradley to get back into Toronto FC's lineup, but the U.S. national team captain says it's not fair that he has to leave at all.
Prior to Saturday, Bradley, who also serves as TFC's captain, last featured for his club side on May 21. The midfielder was unavailable to the MLS side for a month because of the Copa America Centenario, and his return was delayed another six weeks by a knee injury he suffered at the tail end of that tournament.
"One of the most frustrating parts of the league in some ways, is the summer," Bradley said after going 90 minutes and registering an assist for Toronto in a 4-1 win over New England Revolution on Saturday. "With Gold Cups, Copa Americas, right in the middle of the season you have to leave for four, five, or six weeks. And obviously this summer for me was made a little worse by the fact that I picked up the injury in the third-place game of the Copa America.
"It’s been too long since I’ve been in this league so tonight to get back on field was great, and three points is even better."
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) August 7, 2016
Since returning to MLS from Europe in 2014, Bradley has had to choose country over club on several occasions as the league only halts play for certain FIFA match days. His lengthy absence this year has been tempered by TFC's good summer form — the team went 5-3-2 in league play and claimed the Canadian Championship without him — and the 29-year-old old said that Toronto's current hot streak was a motivating factor as he worked his way back from injury.
"Absolutely," Bradley said when asked if it's more fun to return to a team and fan base riding the high of a four-game winning streak. "To walk onto a field like that, in a stadium like this, in a city like this, it’s why I came here."
Ever the captain, Bradley played down TFC's current position on the table. The Reds are one point behind Eastern Conference-leading New York City FC with a game in hand, and Toronto has a home-heavy schedule to finish out the regular season.
So @torontofc now best in East on PPG, best goals against, best goal differential & most home games left.
— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) August 7, 2016
Despite the team's favorable standing, Bradley stressed the importance of keeping focused on the things that have made his side successful during the past month.
"Everybody has to understand that margins are very small," he said. "The moment we think that we are better than we are, and the second we think that we can afford to take our foot off the gas just a little bit then we’re going to get punished. So we have to continue to have that killer instinct mentality.
"We’re going to continue to work, we’re going to continue to give everything we have every day to push ourselves, because only then we will have a real chance to succeed."