TORONTO – In Toronto FC's last home match against the San Jose Earthquakes, the World Cup theme could be seen all around BMO Field, and for good reason: Two TFC players, Julio Cesar and Michael Bradley, will start for Brazil and the United States, respectively, in the 2014 World Cup.
Reds fans were treated to a small-scale Brazilian party, with Brazilian dancers dressed in carnival apparel dancing to samba music and balloons in combinations of green and yellow or red, white and blue adorning the stands. National team posters of TFC's two World Cup players were handed out to the first 10,000 fans, too.
World Cup fever has hit the city of Toronto, and that has seeped into the team, who now take a three-week break before returning to action in late June.
"We're all excited to be watching it," TFC captain Steven Caldwell told MLSsoccer.com. "I think most of us wish that we were actually there. We're very proud of our guys that have gone there and we'll be watching them and hoping they do very well."
This will be Caldwell's first World Cup experience in North America, and the captain says he's looking forward to being able to watch the games in a favorable time zone.
"It's difficult to watch a South American or American World Cup back home," Caldwell said. "The last game is on rather late; it's difficult to stay up, I remember in '94, trying to stay up while I was still at school and falling asleep most games and waking up to the noise of the old TV when the channel finished."
He won't need to stay up too long to watch Julio Cesar and Brazil kick off the festivities against Croatia at 4 pm ET on Thursday.
Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen made sure to keep his team focused on league matches before the World Cup break started, joking that his team could "walk around in any kind of World Cup shirt they want on Sunday but until then, they can keep their flags in the cupboard."
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Toronto walked away 1-0 winners against the San Jose Earthquakes, giving the team a positive end to the first third of the year; they sit in a playoff spot with 19 points in 11 games. The return of Bradley will be a welcome boost for Nelsen's side as the team works towards a franchise-first playoff appearance.
So, who does Nelsen see winning the World Cup?
"I'm going to be pretty boring and say Brazil, only because Julio will be texting me if I don't say that. They'll beat the US in the final," he said.
As for the rest of the roster, here are some of the predictions they gave to RedNation Online before the season started, during the team's media day event in February:
No. 1 – Chris Konopka: "Well, I would have picked Poland but they're not in it, so I'm actually going to go on a completely off chance to put a smile on my girlfriend's face and say Greece."
No. 2 – Justin Morrow: "I don't have a prediction for the World Cup but I'm excited to watch the USA."
No. 5 – Ashtone Morgan: "I've been a strong supporter of France, because of [Zinedine] Zidane, so France."
No. 7 – Bright Dike: "I've got to go with Nigeria."
No. 8 – Kyle Bekker: "Holland, man, got some Dutch roots so I've got to stay faithful."
No. 9 – Gilberto : "I am Brazilian, I will like Brazil. If not Brazil, then Portugal."
No. 11 – Jackson: "Brazil, because we're at home and it's much easier for us."
No. 12 – Joe Bendik: "Brazil. My hope is that the US wins but if I have to make a safe bet, I'd say Brazil."
No. 13 – Steven Caldwell: "Brazil are going to win the World Cup, because they're at home and home support is crucial in a World Cup."
No. 14 – Dwayne De Rosario: "I'd like to see Brazil, because they're at home."
No. 15 – Doneil Henry: "My favorite defender plays for Spain, Sergio Ramos, so Spain."
No. 16 – Bradley Orr: "I've got a little sneaky feeling about Uruguay. I think they've got a good, strong unit and players who can produce moments of brilliance and win matches on their own. Climate-wise they'll be used to it and I have this sneaky feeling they can do well."
No. 17 – Nick Hagglund: "It's a tough question – I really think Uruguay's going to win it. Luis Suarez is on fire right now and only South American teams have won [World Cups held in the Americas]. Uruguay has this edge about them."
No. 21 – Jonathan Osorio: "Colombia's going to win, because that's where my parents are from."
No. 25 – Jeremy Hall: "Me being American, I want the US to win. We have a tough group but I think we can get out. I'm going to go with Spain again, I know they're a little older but they have the experience and I think they'll come to form."
No. 28 – Mark Bloom: "Is everyone saying Brazil? Brazil maybe has the edge because they're at home, but I like the German squad, they're going to be contenders for sure."
No. 32 – Andrew Wiedeman: "I've got to give the leg up to Brazil, playing at home, they have the advantage."
No. 33 – Ryan Richter: "The US, because I've seen what Mike [Bradley] can do. I haven't seen what the rest of those guys can do. He's a leader for us so I'll pick them. And I'm American, so I'll never pick against the US."
No. 35 – Dan Lovitz: "I love Belgium, I love the dark-horse mentality they have and I love playing with them in FIFA. This generation of players have established themselves in so many different leagues around the world."