WASHINGTON – Custom and mindset dictated that the US men’s national team were largely disinclined to discuss Tuesday’s visit to BMO Field to face Canada earlier this week, before they dispatched an overmatched Cuba side 7-0 on Friday night.
But with the first task on their October Concacaf Nations League to-do list marked off with steely professionalism, all focus shifts to the biggest soccer clash between these neighbors in a decade or two, as a resurgent CanMNT aim to ambush the Yanks who tend to overshadow and overlook them in matters of sport – hockey aside – and culture alike.
“This is a game that they will have had circled on their calendar for a while,” said USMNT veteran and Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley before he and his teammates departed Audi Field on Friday night. “So we have to understand that going there is going to be a big test, because you’re going to get a young, motivated, dynamic team that is ready to play this game like it’s a cup final.”
Last month Canada head coach John Herdman called Tuesday “the game we have been waiting for, for 10-15 years,” adding that “it’s our house and we have to make sure they feel that.” This week Les Rouges and Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette upped the ante further, saying that “the hate that we have toward the Americans is just natural” and underlining his squad’s optimism of a positive result.
“They have a lot of good young players. They have guys who have started to make real headway at good clubs in Europe, they have guys who play key roles for very good MLS teams and it’s all come together in a way where they think this is the best team they’ve had in a while,” noted Bradley of Canada. “And they’re motivated and they’ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and so it’s a team that on their day can cause anybody trouble.”
A TFC Designated Player since 2014, Bradley and his family have made The 6ix a happy home, giving him an up-close view on Canada’s recent crop of talent and Herdman’s charismatic leadership. Another intriguing subplot: His father Bob has helped GTA native Mark-Anthony Kaye grow into one of MLS’s top center mids at LAFC.
Michael also suggested that a breakthrough performance against the USMNT could become a turning point for Toronto’s relationship with the national team, who have underachieved all too often in this century.
“In Toronto the everyday football vibe is still geared around Toronto FC. That’s just the reality,” he said. “The national team certainly has a loyal following, the Voyageurs [supporters group] and the way that they’ve supported the national team, supported Canadian soccer, that part has been incredible and I think now Toronto will be excited to throw their full support behind the national team for a big game.
“In the last three, four, five years a lot of the big football days in Toronto have involved Toronto FC. I think certainly the national team will be excited to have their day.”
Bradley didn’t log minutes in Friday’s mauling, as coach Gregg Berhalter elected to staff his central midfield with Weston McKennie, Cristian Roldan and Jackson Yueill, with Sebastian Lletget coming off the bench. It’s tempting to conclude that those personnel choices are a hint that Bradley will get the runout at his club home on Tuesday. Though he wasn’t up for speculating on that topic, nor the type of welcome he may get at BMO, he sounded as eager for the occasion as the Canucks who’ll line up on the other side.
“I’ll certainly be ready to play; whether I do or not, that’s up to Gregg. And it’ll be a special night for me. I’m excited,” said Bradley, whose next cap will be his 151st. “The opportunity to play a game with your national team at home is not something that comes around often.
“What exactly the reception is, I don’t know. I know that the relationship that I’ve built with the city of Toronto, with our fans, with the people who come to that stadium on a regular basis, is special. And I’m damn sure that’s not changing based on one night.”