Michael Bradley is back home in Chicago

MLS is back to where the league started in Chicago, at albeit rebuilt Soldier Field, for the 2017 MLS All-Star Game Wednesday night against Real Madrid.

This is a different soccer town from when Phil Anschutz started the Fire and Peter Wilt was the general manager and Bob Bradley was the head coach. The team played at Soldier Field and had a big Polish influence with Peter Nowak its first signing.

Andrew Hauptman purchased the Fire from AEG in 2007, the year it opened in Bridgeview, 35 minutes by car away from Soldier Field. And Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic took over and general manager and head coach in 2016. In a year, they've turned around the Fire so it has a shot at its first MLS Cup title since that first season in 1998.

No one at the All-Star Game has a stronger connection to Soldier Field circa 1998 than Michael Bradley, the captain of Toronto FC and the U.S. national team. He turned 30 on Monday, which made him 10 when when the Fire began its first season.

He’d hang around the sidelines, shag balls, talk with the players and listen to what his dad, Bob, told them. His was a small kid so no one knew he'd grow into his 6-foot-1 frame but everyone knew he had soccer smarts. Fire players would have to pass the Michael test. If they were as smart as he was, they could play.

"Coming back to Chicago is always special for me," Michael said at the All-Star Game press conference. "Some of  the most important years growing up and growing up as a young player were here in Chicago. My experiences playing with the Chicago Sockers and at the time looking to be part of things in any way. I remember coming down to old Soldier Field on Saturday nights. At that time, the atmosphere in the league was so unique and had such a European feel to it. It helped that there was a strong Polish presence. The time spent here was incredible."

Wednesday's All-Star Game will be the third game in a week with three different teams for Bradley. He won the Gold Cup with the USA in Santa Clara and led Toronto FC to a 4-0 win over New York City FC back home in Toronto -- a win that put TFC back in first place in the Supporters' Shield race.

Bradley said there's nothing difficult about the schedule or travel when you're doing something you love.

"It's been a very busy stretch, that's for sure," he said, "but it is something I love to do and I enjoy every second of it."

Bradley has been on both sides in the All-Star Game. He played for the MLS all-stars in 2014 and 2015 and Roma in 2013.

"It's an exciting few days in every way," he said. "Even for us as players to have the opportunity to come together and spend time with other best players around the league to talk football and to get to know players on an level you'd otherwise wouldn't be able to, it's enjoyable. Chicago is an amazing city. Obviously, there is no better opponent than Real Madrid."

Bradley will be joined in MLS by his father in 2018. Bob Bradley was announced last week as the head coach of the Los Angeles FC.

"For the time being, I couldn't be more excited for him," he said. "The project in Los Angeles, from everything that I've seen and read and everything that I've talked with him about, is going to be amazing. It's something that I think is going to help the league in a big way."

Michael Bradley will be a big fan of LAFC but from afar and only when LAFC and TFC don't meet.

"For 33 games next year, I'll be LAFC's biggest fan ... but I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I love Toronto. Toronto's my home. Toronto's my club. I've never been more committed to trying to finish what I went there for, which was to win, to hold up trophies."

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