CHICAGO -- The timing for Michael Bradley's signing with AS Roma couldn't have been much better. With the Italian side playing their first match of their American tour this afternoon at Wrigley Field against Polish side Zagłębie Lubin, it was a homecoming of sorts for the United States Men's National Team midfielder.
Bradley was born in New Jersey, but spent a portion of his youth in Palatine, Illinois while his father, former Chicago Fire head coach Bob Bradley, coached the Men in Red from 1998 to 2002.
Surely Bradley went to some Cubs games when growing up, right?
"This is actually my first time here, so I lived here for four or five years, never made it to the stadium," said Bradley at an on-field press conference Saturday morning.
Ummm, say what?
All kidding aside, Bradley's signing was officially announced by the Italian side last Sunday and the club wasted no time in starting the American midfielder in a friendly against Austrian first-division side SK Rapid Wien.
Bradley joined i Giallorossi from A.C. Chievo Verona as part of a $4.6 million transfer fee. The 24-year-old holding midfielder will join Francesco Totti, the legendary Roma attacking midfielder and forward who has played for the club since 1992. Supporters will hope that the two players will be able to come together under new head coach Zdeněk Zeman's attacking system to torment other clubs across Italy and Europe.
"It is a very positive thing," said Zeman of Bradley's signing through a translator. "Moreover, the United States National Team is doing quite well and is playing at a World Cup level."
The younger Bradley was initially drafted by his father, who was coaching the then New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) at the time, in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. Bradley was 16 at the time of the draft, and played two seasons for the MetroStars before moving to Dutch club SC Heerenveen in 2006. In three seasons at Heerenveen, Bradley scored 18 goals in all competitions and earned a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach of the German Bundesliga in August 2008.
Again, Bradley exceeded expectations, making 76 appearances for Mönchengladbach over three years and earning himself a loan deal with Aston Villa in January 2012 (who played the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday night). After that ended, he made the move to Italy that following summer with Chievo. Apparently something clicked for Bradley and after a season in Verona, he finally joined AS Roma and is now ready to build on his previous success to help the club get back into the Champions League.
"This is special for me," said Bradley about the move. "Just to be able to step on the field with Roma is something extremely special to begin with."
Mark Pannes, the Chief Executive Officer of AS Roma dismissed claims that Bradley was signed simply as a way to market the club to American soccer fans.
"Bradley was picked because he's an excellent player," said Pannes. "It's a huge benefit that he's an American, but I think at the end of the day, our football ops guys are pretty calculating in what they need from a quality of player standpoint and they chose him for his skills."
Bradley has also been become one of the United States Men's National Team's most consistent players. Even after his father his father was fired as head coach in July 2011, the younger Bradley continued to impress and new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has continued to use him in the heart of the USMNT midfield. Overall, since his international debut in 2006, Bradley has made 69 appearances for The Stars and Stripes, notching an impressive ten goals, which include memorable tallies in the 2009 Confederations Cup, the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Gold Cup.
But for now, the focus will be on Roma and having to prove himself to his new club.
"This is the biggest opportunity of my career," said Bradley. "To come to a club like Roma with the passion, the history, the tradition of the club, it doesn't get any better than this."