TORONTO – New York may not be the place that booed Santa Claus (that honor goes to Philadelphia), but its reputation for brusque welcomes is well-known.
So when two US internationals, native sons of New Jersey and former New York Red Bulls/MetroStars players, make their return to town on Monday with Toronto FC to kick off their participation in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, it’s uncertain what reception they will receive, to say the least.
Last weekend, in their first road match with TFC since the US men's national team’s disastrous inability to qualify for the World Cup, saw Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore booed mercilessly throughout the 90 minutes in Atlanta.
That was not entirely unexpected.
“I had a good feeling [in Atlanta],” recalled Bradley on Friday. “We walked out to see the field, I hadn't been on for two steps and I had a few nice things yelled at me. So we went back in, Jozy and I were talking, I said, 'We'll see what this looks like; I have a feeling it's going to go this way.' Sure enough, I was right.”
“I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about it,” said Bradley. “I learned at a young age that it's not worth spending two seconds worrying about what others think. You have your teammates, coaches, people close to you, who you talk to, rely on, whose opinion you trust. The others on the outside can do, can say, what they want.”
Added Altidore: “You don't think about those things. It's a blessing, a childhood dream to play in these types of venues. No matter where it is: here, in Europe, in the World Cup … To play and thousands of people come to watch and see your craft. To be able to do that – it's always what I wanted to do as a young boy – it's fantastic.”
Should they expect more of the same when TFC head south to face the Red Bulls?
“For a short term, maybe,” said coach Greg Vanney. “That's their way of trying to voice their opinion. I don't know how long it will last, but it's nice motivation for our guys to compete, work hard and prove what happened is a lot more than about a couple of people.”
Regardless of the welcome, or lack thereof, in the cards, both players have fond memories of the time they spent with the Red Bulls, or MetroStars, as they were known when Bradley was drafted there in 2004.
“It was my first professional club,” said Bradley. “The experience of playing for my dad, how much I learned, improved … that played a big part early in my career. The first year I was injured for most the year. That wasn't great. The way things ended wasn't what you would have hoped for, but in the end it led to bigger and better things for both my Dad and me. Ultimately, it was a good thing.”
Bob Bradley was fired as the end of the 2005 season neared and Michael moved on to Europe in the offseason, but not until after scoring a late game-winner against Chivas USA that sent the MetroStars to the playoffs.
Altidore was drafted in 2006 by the Red Bulls, making 41 appearances for the club before leaving for Europe himself midway through the 2008 season.
“It was my first club ever, my first playoff goal was there, my first taste of football was there,” said Altidore, who scored against D.C. United in the second leg of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals, though New York lost the series 2-1 on aggregate. “I have great memories of my time there.”
Brief recollections aside, neither has any room for sentimentality as Toronto play the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Red Bulls on Monday, aiming to return to the final and go one better than they did last year.
“It's just another game,” maintained Altidore. “Another opportunity to do something special this year.”
Said Bradley: “No, no extra meaning. It's two big games, a playoff series with everything on the line. That's a lot. I'm not sure there is any room for anything extra.”