TORONTO – He's back.
“Very excited to be back with the team,” said Bradley on Friday after Toronto FC wrapped up training in preparation for a match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BMO Field on Saturday (5 pm ET | TSN1/4 - Full TV & Streaming Info). “Two good friendlies against very good teams. Excited to get back with the group, see some old faces, get to know some of the younger guys that have been brought in.”
Bradley and company will host Colombia in Tampa, Fla. on October 11 (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN) and then face Peru in East Hartford, Conn. on October 16 (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, UDN).
The first match will mark almost exactly one year since Bradley last suited up for his country against Trinidad and Tobago.
“Whenever one cycle finishes, whether you get to a World Cup [or] don't, there is always a little down time,” explained Bradley. “The period immediately after is a little slower. There are some friendly games, but, historically, those are used to bring some young guys into the fold to start to see how they can handle it all. This time was no different.”
“We've had a busy year [in Toronto], all my attention and focus and commitment has been trying to get us through Champions League and see if we can get things turned around here,” continued Bradley. “Now when the opportunity comes back to go in with the national team and to represent my country, it's something you don't have to think twice about.”
TFC's Greg Vanney explained why Bradley's return was important for the US.
“He's been a key figure: the captain, gives his heart and soul to everything that he's a part of. You can never fault that,” said Vanney. “It's good to have him back in that team.”
“Even though they're starting to bring some young players in, which is a good move, you still have to have senior, veteran players who really understand what getting results in Concacaf is like when it really matters,” added Vanney, himself a former US international. “There is always a legacy to passing the torch on. When I was there, we needed the veteran players. You learn a lot from those guys and when it becomes your turn you take that on. It's still for Michael to help lead, guide, prepare and continue to get results with this team.”
Bradley has watched intently from a distance.
“As always there have been some guys who have done well, have shown they need to continue to be pushed along as things go forward. In other moments, when you have that many new, young players, it can be a little more difficult,” observed Bradley. “From the outside, it's been fun and interesting to watch, to start to get a feel for some of these younger players. Now I'm excited to go and have the chance to see it all up close.”
With the next competitive fixtures on the docket, next summer's Concacaf Gold Cup, and a full-time manager yet to be named, these are still formative times.
“The end of this year and early part of next, the slow period comes to an end and there starts to be real games just around the corner,” said Bradley. “Gold Cups, especially the one right after a World Cup [are] important, in terms of experience, starting to build a group that knows how to play in a tournament. The Confederations Cup half-berth is at stake: I know how important those can be for the growth of a team.”
Jozy Altidore, who is dealing with an ankle knock that has forced him off early in Toronto's last two games, was not recalled for this camp, but Vanney confirmed that Altidore's eventual return was a topic in his conversations with the US camp.
There is one hiccup, however, as TFC, clinging to narrow playoff hopes, play a vital match against D.C. United on October 17, a day after the US is set to meet Peru.
“There is no conflict for me,” said Bradley. “As long as we're still mathematically in with a chance, I will be here for the game against D.C.”
What can the US expect from Bradley as he makes his return?
“I am who I am,” said Bradley. “My motivation – trying to give whatever team I'm on the best chance possible to win; to improve as a player every day in how I train, how I work; to make sure I'm ready when games come to be good, sharp, and continue to make a big difference – that part is always there. That makes me who I am. In those ways, nothing will change.”