TORONTO — When the United States national team takes the pitch next Tuesday to play Canada, there’ll be some very familiar faces in both lineup for those in attendance at BMO Field.
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley has been a stalwart of the U.S. setup for years, but he hasn’t yet taken on Canada in Toronto since his 2014 transfer from AS Roma.
So, this CONCACAF Nations League fixture is set to feature some friendly fire. Bradley will butt heads with a Canada squad that includes TFC teammates Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea, and Liam Fraser. Another Red, Jozy Altidore, will miss out due to injury.
Although TFC spent the last month of their regular season in a close scramble for playoff positioning, this Canada-U.S. clash certainly floated through the minds of all the players involved.
“From a personal point I’ve kind of circled this day for a long time, being able to face Mike — if I get the opportunity to face Mike — in such a massive spotlight,” Fraser told CanPL.ca.
“Once the whistle blows you’re not teammates anymore, I think everyone has the same understanding of that.”
Asked if the TFC players set to face each other made any friendly wagers before departing to opposite camps, Fraser laughed and shook his head.
“There’s no friendly nothin’ as soon as the whistle blows,” he said. “We’re excited.”
Fraser earned his call-up to this Canada camp later than the rest, joining the squad after veteran midfielder Will Johnson withdrew due for family reasons. It’ll be the fifth time Fraser has been named to the senior national team roster, although he has yet to appear in a match for Les Rouges.
As a central midfielder, regular minutes at TFC haven’t been the easiest to come by for Fraser, by virtue of playing directly behind Bradley in the depth chart. At the same time, since he’s worked so closely with Bradley in training, Fraser (and his TFC teammates) has a wealth of useful intel on his club’s captain that could help Canada in this clash versus the U.S.
“There’s definitely parts you can pick out of his game that we can try to use in part of our game plan,” Fraser said.
He cautioned, however, that familiarity with a key member of the opposition is a double-edged sword.
“You could say the same thing on the opposite side as well. He’s done the same, he knows aspects of (Jonathan Osorio’s) game, of (Richie Laryea’s) game, of my game, and he can provide information to the other team,” Fraser warned.
At just 21, Fraser certainly has an eye to his future while he trains in the national team camp. The midfield is incredibly competitive, with Sam Piette and Scott Arfield, among others, the current mainstays. For Fraser, the presence of players at big European clubs (Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett, and so on) is a huge benefit to his personal development.
“Playing with better players in general pushes me to want to be a better player and think at a faster pace,” he said. “It’s great competition and a great opportunity but it’s also a good stepping stone, to maybe realize what could be across the pond and what I have to develop in order to get over there.”
For now, though, the focus is Tuesday night at BMO Field. Fraser is bullish on Canada’s chances of beating the U.S. and perhaps topping Group A in the Nations League, calling this match “very winnable.” Those around the Canada camp seem to feel this could be their best shot at taking down the U.S. in a long time.
“I do think people south of the border have not given us credit, kind of writing us off already,” Fraser said. “It’ll be nice to play spoiler.”