TORONTO – Even 13 years after making his U.S. national team debut, and collecting 150 caps along the way, Michael Bradley hasn’t become the least bit jaded about representing his country, nor does he take that privilege for granted.
But Tuesday’s Concacaf Nations League match between the U.S. and Canada has extra meaning for the veteran American midfielder who has starred for Toronto FC since joining the MLS club in 2014.
The 32-year-old Bradley, who is easily the most capped player in this current U.S. squad, has come to call Toronto his home, such is his and his family’s love of the city. Not just his home away from home, but his home. That’s why Tuesday’s tilt at BMO Field, where he’s quarterbacked TFC’s midfield for the past six years and helped the Reds win an MLS Cup in 2017, means a little bit more.
“The opportunity to play for your national team at home doesn’t come around very often. The fact that home for me is in a different country than the national team I play for makes it even more special. This is a game that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Bradley said on Monday.
Aside from having to suit up in the visitors’ dressing room at BMO Field, Bradley also faces the prospect of going up against some familiar faces on Tuesday. TFC teammate Jonathan Osorio could earn a start for the Canadians, while Liam Fraser (Bradley’s young midfield understudy with the Reds) and fullback Richie Laryea have also been named to John Herdman’s team.
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Bradley has been impressed with Canada’s group of young stars that include Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Gent). Like the U.S., he sees this Canadian side as one that is trying to come together under a new coach, figure out what its best starting 11 is, and how it can best move forward.
“It’s a team that’s still coming together in a lot of ways. … When you look at the core of their team right now, it’s a lot of young guys, but talented young players. Young players that have started to make real headway at good clubs in Europe (and) other young players who play key roles on big clubs here in MLS,” Bradley offered.
Canada tops Group A with six points, ahead of the U.S. (three points) and pointless Cuba (two losses). After squaring off at BMO Field, Canada and the U.S. will meet on Nov. 15 in Orlando, so this home-and-home series will likely determine who wins Group A and advances to next summer’s Nations League finals.
Beating the U.S. is also very important for Canada (ranked No. 75 in the world) if it’s going to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Under new rules, the top six teams in CONCACAF, based on the FIFA world rankings in June 2020, move on to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifiers for the region. The top three nations in “the Hex” then qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Canada sits seventh in the CONCACAF region, behind Mexico (No. 12), the U.S (21), Costa Rica (43), Jamaica (47), Honduras (67) an El Salvador (72). In order to crack the top six by next June and advance to “the Hex,” Canada has to win games like the ones against the U.S. in order to pick up valuable ranking points and move up the FIFA ladder.
Should Canada not make “the Hex,” it would be forced to compete in a secondary CONCACAF qualifying competition, with the ultimate winner then facing the fourth-place finisher from “the Hex” in a two-game series. The winner of that would then have to play a home-and home playoff against a nation from outside CONCACAF with a World Cup berth at stake.
If Canada stands any chance of qualifying for next summer’s Nations League finals, it’ll have to take points off the Americans in this two-game set. That’s easier said than done, considering Canada hasn’t defeated the U.S. in 34 years, and that Herdman’s side haven’t played a lot of top-level opponents since he took over as manager last year. This U.S. team is a side that’s in transition, but it will pose a stern test for the Canadians.
“In speaking to a lot of their guys, I know that they feel good about what they’re doing and how it’s all coming together The biggest thing they need at this point is games – real games. Games against good opponents. Hopefully, we can be that (Tuesday) night,” Bradley said.