Home / World News / MLS Cup won’t fill void of World Cup. But for three leaders of U.S. soccer, it would be a begin. – The Denver Post

MLS Cup won’t fill void of World Cup. But for three leaders of U.S. soccer, it would be a begin. – The Denver Post

TORONTO — Some of the abuse has crossed the line, nasty and personal attacks beyond the standard vitriol that, as two of MLS’ highest-profile players, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, have endured in their leaguewide travels.

Their Toronto FC teammate, Drew Moor, remembers standing two places behind Bradley in Atlanta’s tunnel as the teams prepared to march out before the regular season finale in late October.

“Some fan said something to him,” the defender said. “You couldn’t believe what he was saying. Michael gave him a smile, like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ ”

This is what happens when you are the captain of the U.S. national team and have failed to qualify for the World Cup, the unquestionable low point in American soccer history. Soccer does not mean as much to most Americans as it does to the rest of the planet’s citizens, but as the sport has grown in the United States, so too has the intensity of fandom and, consequently, the reaction when something catastrophic occurs.

Twenty-three players were in Trinidad and Tobago on that fateful night two months ago, but in the aftermath, Bradley and Altidore seemed to take the brunt of the criticism. It’s because they’ve been associated with the national team for so long, because Bradley is the team leader, because Altidore is a goal scorer who didn’t score in the decisive defeat, and because both have been outspoken in various circumstances over the years.

When Toronto visited the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the fact that both had once played for the home team did not matter a bit. They were not only playing for the front-runners, they were three weeks removed from the World Cup qualifying mishap.

The fact they make massive amount of money, by MLS standards, was also part of it. Bradley is third in the league at $6.5 million, Altidore eighth at $4.9 million. At Red Bull Arena, the bull’s eye grew.

After an evening of insults, Altidore spoke out.

“Being disappointed with the World Cup, I get, I understand,” Altidore said. “But the other stuff is a bit disappointing. I never was disrespectful towards these people. It’s my first club, and I have so much admiration for the club.”

In the national team aftermath, Bradley and Altidore have carried on with Toronto, shifting from representing their country to representing their adoptive northern city. Toronto is enjoying one of the finest campaigns in league history and, should it defeat the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup on Saturday, it would become the first to win three trophies in one year (Supporters’ Shield for best regular season, Canadian cup title and league championship).

Winning at sold-out BMO Field would not release them from responsibility for the Trinidad and Tobago fiasco or calm the tempest back in the States. But it would bring a dose of happiness in an otherwise rough time and allow them to continue turning the page on missing the World Cup.

Bradley has talked about having two jobs and, after the national team fall, pivoting to Toronto FC. “The opportunity to play in a final is special, and it’s not something that comes around all the time,” he said. “You want to play in the biggest games and the biggest moments when everything is on the line.”

Bradley and Altidore aren’t the only ones seeking some redemption. Seattle’s Clint Dempsey was another well-known figure on the U.S. squad in the Caribbean. Dempsey has not been targeted by fans as much as Bradley and Altidore, perhaps because, in this late stage of his career, he was a reserve with the national team and less culpable.

Since rejoining the Sounders, Dempsey has pivoted to Seattle’s quest to repeat as champion. Winning or losing, Dempsey has never shown much emotion off the field.

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