TFC not out for ‘re­venge’

Cap­tain says MLS Cup re­match is ‘about our group,’ not about Seat­tle

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - SCOTT STINSON sstin­son@post­media.com

TORONTO — Some­times ath­letes who are about to per­form in a cham­pi­onship bask in the spec­ta­cle. They soak up the at­mos­phere and the at­ten­tion, and they take the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on the ac­com­plish­ments of a long sea­son and the greater mean­ing of the big stage ahead. Then, there is Jozy Alti­dore. The Toronto FC striker was asked on Thurs­day about his sore an­kle, the one that was sprained in the con­fer­ence fi­nal and on which he still man­aged to score the win­ning goal.

“It’s good,” he said. Alti­dore, at the same MLS Cup press con­fer­ence, was later asked a much longer ques­tion about the an­kle. Did he think it would be an is­sue? Is he far­ther along in the re­cov­ery process than he ex­pected to be at this point?

“It doesn’t mat­ter,” he said. Later still, asked if he re­mem­bered what it felt like to watch Seat­tle lift the cham­pi­onship tro­phy last year on Toronto’s home pitch, Alti­dore replied: “Not great.”

All of which is fine. Some­times guys don’t feel chatty. Alti­dore can talk on Satur­day with his boots and all that. But while the for­ward was adopt­ing his all-busi­ness pos­ture, it fell to his team­mate Michael Bradley to re­flect on what all of this means.

The short ver­sion: it means a lot. Per­haps it’s not sur­pris­ing that Bradley, 30, was in the mood to be re­flec­tive. Af­ter the bru­tal loss on penalty kicks in the MLS Cup last year, and the tor­tu­ous exit of the United States from World Cup qual­i­fy­ing this past fall, he has an­other chance for a sig­na­ture ca­reer win. For some­one who was one of the big­gest Amer­i­can soc­cer prodi­gies ever, who was pil­ing up goals as a teenager in the Dutch first di­vi­sion and went on to play in the top leagues in Ger­many, Eng­land and Italy, it might feel like that top-ofthe-moun­tain mo­ment has been a long time com­ing.

He was asked on Thurs­day if re­venge for last year’s loss to the Seat­tle Sounders was on any­one’s mind.

“Re­venge is not re­ally a part of it,” Bradley said. “I think we’re all ex­cited it’s Seat­tle again, but for me, the way I look at things, this is about our group of guys, our club, this city, the road that we have all taken to get here, what it meant to get here af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment and heart­break of last year, to have to live each and ev­ery day this year know­ing that at the back of our minds this was all we wanted, (which) was to give our­selves an­other crack.”

Bradley, on a roll now, con­tin­ued: “In my mind this is about us, this is about step­ping on the field on Satur­day and go­ing for it, even in the big­gest game, hav­ing a group of guys who, in a fear­less and ag­gres­sive way, are ready to go af­ter things.”

It is an odd­ity of Ma­jor League Soc­cer that there is even a play­off at all. Most do­mes­tic leagues don’t have a post-sea­son; if you fin­ish with the most points in the reg­u­lar sea­son, you win the ti­tle. In that sense, what Toronto FC did in fin­ish­ing atop MLS this sea­son would for many club teams have been the ul­ti­mate goal. But all Bradley and his team­mates have said this week is that, when you play in MLS, it is all about win­ning the Cup.

There is ev­i­dence that this is more than just mo­ti­va­tional talk. In Toronto FC’s prac­tice fa­cil­ity at Downsview Park, a wall of the players’ lounge has three glass-cov­ered holes cut out. One holds the Cana­dian cham­pi­onship tro­phy that TFC se­cured ear­lier this sea­son. One has a spot for the CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons Cup; the club will re­turn to that competition next year. And the third spot, la­bel led MLS Cup, sits empty. That’s the hard­ware that TFC needs to com­plete what has been a re­mark­able two-year run.

It’s re­mark­able mostly be­cause of where TFC was. When Bradley ar­rived in the win­ter of 2014, the team was no­table for be­ing as suc­cess­ful off the field as it was un­suc­cess­ful on it. His ar­rival it­self was only par­tially suc­cess­ful: Bradley ’s sign­ing was an­nounced along­side that of English striker Jer­main De­foe, who started strong but then quickly soured on Toronto and MLS. De­spite the shock of those big-dol­lar, big-name pur­chases, TFC missed the play­offs again that sea­son. But un­like De­foe, Bradley em­braced the new team and new league, and he was named the club cap­tain the fol­low­ing sea­son, when it fi­nally broke into the play­offs for the first time. Two years later, it is a pow­er­house. Bradley wasn’t around for the worst of those many lean TFC years, but he knows some­thing of its disappointments.

He knows some­thing of its suc­cesses now, too. And he says they need to take the fear­less­ness that has got­ten them to this point into Satur­day’s fi­nal, where a rau­cous, if chilly, crowd awaits.

“Whether it’s home or away, re­gard­less of who we are play­ing against, we have tried to be ag­gres­sive, tried to go for it, tried to win,” the cap­tain said. “We are go­ing to do that one more time and see where that leaves us.”

FRANK GUNN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Toronto FC’s Jozy Alti­dore, right, lis­tens as cap­tain Michael Bradley speaks to re­porters Thurs­day in Toronto. On Satur­day Toronto FC will host the Seat­tle Sounders for the sec­ond straight year in the MLS Cup fi­nal.

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