TFC’s Bradley: ‘Friendlies important to MLS’

Michael Bradley (right) in action for Toronto FC. (Chris Young/CP)

TORONTO – There is a large and rather vocal segment of Toronto FC’s fan base that isn’t exactly enamoured with the prospect of the Reds playing mid-season friendlies.

Toronto currently sits third in the Eastern Conference and is in the middle of a tight playoff race with just over half of the Major League Soccer regular season to go. This is a critical time of the campaign for TFC, who are scheduled to play seven league games between now and the end of August.

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TFC is also dealing with long-term injuries to two key starters: captain and central defender Steven Caldwell and right back Mark Bloom. Their absences will make what is a gruelling part of the schedule that much more difficult for the Reds.

So you can hardly blame some fans, then, for feeling that Wednesday’s international friendly against English Premier League outfit Tottenham at BMO Field comes at an inopportune time, and that it detracts from where the Reds’ focus should be on—making the playoffs.

What do the players think? There’s been a genuine buzz around the team’s practice facility over the past week ahead of Wednesday’s tilt, with some players almost giddy about testing themselves versus the English outfit.

A meaningless, unimportant exhibition match? Don’t try telling that to Michael Bradley.

“The reality is that these games are important to the league. The timing isn’t the best in a month when we’re playing a lot of games and now when you throw in a few injuries, it’s easy to look at it and say it’s not the perfect time to play a friendly. But when you look at it from the other side, it’s a great chance our younger payers and for every guy to [get playing time] against one of the best teams in England,” Bradley said.

Bradley sees these kinds of games as valuable to MLS increasing its credibility in the global soccer market, and insists that TFC will be taking this match very seriously

“When you talk about the growth of the league, when you talk about the growth of football in North America, it’s important now that when we have these opportunities we play well, and we play in away that represents the league in a good way,” Bradley offered.

The contest versus Spurs holds a special meaning for Jermain Defoe, as the TFC forward will have the chance to take on his former club. But Canadian defender Doneil Henry, who trained with West Ham United in the off-season, is particularly looking forward to taking on Tottenham in order to see how TFC “matches up with them.”

“Every time I can play an EPL team, it really means something because that’s where you want to be at the end of the day—in the top flight. Quality players are coming here to get some fitness but we need to shine some light on the guys here in MLS,” Henry says.

Even TFC coach Ryan Nelsen, who spent a brief part of his Premier League playing career at Tottenham, is looking forward to the contest against his old club.

“When you rub shoulders with them, you get to see where you are against them—what the difference is and can I match up with these guys,” Nelsen stated.

“The gap isn’t as big as everyone thinks.”

With no limit on substitutions, Nelsen said all of his players would see action against Spurs. He also plans to recall forward Jordan Hamilton and defender Ryan Richter, currently on loan with the Wilmington Hammerheads and the Ottawa Fury of the USL-Pro and NASL divisions, so that they can gain some valuable playing time.

“Everybody will get a little run in,” Nelsen promised.

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