CARSON, Calif. â€” The off-season was all too short for Toronto FC stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, with international soccer quick to call.
Toronto players aren’t due to report for pre-season until Jan. 23. While they plan what to pack, Altidore and Bradley have been working up a sweat in California under the watchful eye of U.S. coach Bruce Arena.
The Americans opened their annual January training camp one month to the day after Toronto FC was beaten by Seattle in a penalty shootout in the Dec. 10 MLS Cup final. They are gearing up for friendlies Jan. 29 on San Diego against Serbia and Feb. 3 in Chattanooga, Tenn., against Jamaica.
Asked if he had been able to do anything special to his off-season regimen, Altidore joked: “I’ve barely had time to change my clothes.”
“That’s the game,” he added. “That’s the year. That’s how it is. It’s only going to get busier with (CONCACAF) Champions League coming next year, I think, at some point. There’s lot of things going to happen now. So I’m just trying to stay fit, try to stay hungry.”
Bradley and his family got to relax on a beach for a few days after the season ended. But it wasn’t long before the U.S. captain was back in the gym at Toronto’s training centre.
He spent the holidays at his Toronto home.
“For me that’s always the best part,” he explained after the U.S. team’s morning practice. “Just the time at home.
“We travel so much and spend so much time on the road that when you get a little bit of time off, just to be at home … is great.”
There was some speculation late last season that the 29-year-old Bradley, who has earned 126 caps for his country, had drawn interest from European clubs. But he makes it clear that he likes it in Toronto.
“I love Toronto. Toronto’s my home. TFC’s my club. I’m not going anywhere.”
Toronto went 14-9-11 during the 2106 regular season, finishing on a 12-3-5 run before falling to Seattle in a championship game it dominated on the statistics sheet. The team lost midfielder Will Johnson (Orlando) and reserve defenders Mark Bloom (Atlanta) and Josh Williams (Columbus) during the off-season.
TFC took Notre Dame centre back Brendan Aubrey in Friday’s draft and has plans to use targeted allocation money to bring in an attacking midfielder. Some defensive depth, especially at right back is also wanted.
Bradley, who doubles as Toronto’s captain, believes the future is bright.
“The expectations are that from Day 1 we’re going to have a very good team,” he said. “The core group is by and large the same, intact. I think the club will continue to look to add the right types of guys. We’re going to go after it from the first game.”
Altidore’s goal this season is simple
“To try to get back to that (championship) game obviously,” he said. “Once you get a taste of it, you want more. And it was such a bittersweet moment. In one sense you’re really proud and proud of everything we did together. And proud of the city, the way they stood behind us.
“And in another (way) you’re a little disappointed in terms of how it ended. Hopefully we can use that disappointment (as motivation) to start our season and really try to get to that (championship) game again.”
Bradley, who said at the time that the championship loss was going to sting a while, was philosophical looking back.
“Sports at the highest level challenges every guy to give everything they have and to spill their heart and soul into it. The only chance you have is if you do that but at the same time just because you do that, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.
“And the biggest and strongest players and teams don’t let that stop them when things don’t go their way. So we’ll continue to use that as big motivation for us as we move ourselves forward.”
Six Toronto teammates – Mo Babouli, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan and Tosaint Ricketts plus Toronto FC II forward Raheem Edwards – are part of the 28-man roster for Canada’s Jan. 12-18 camp in Florida. The squad will be pared down to 18 to travel to Bermuda for a Jan. 22 friendly.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press