TFC fans already have enough emotional anxiety supporting their beloved Reds -- the last thing they need is a conflict of interest.
Yet here comes Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, fresh off a month of steady training with their international teammates, representing the U.S. in a friendly match for North American supremacy.
The match -- to be played in Los Angeles on February 5th -- will be a short week following another USMNT friendly against Iceland this afternoon, January 31. Starting lineups are not finalized yet, but both Altidore and Bradley are expected to play significant roles in both matches.
After such a lengthy period spent training with Jurgen Klinsmann and Co., Waking The Red wanted to take a closer look at how our "other" two DPs have been faring this offseason with their international squads and look ahead to the cross-border showdown.
Jozy Altidore, Reawakened
The word to define Altidore's mental state as 2016 unfolds? "Hunger."
2015 brought great change for the still-young forward: a return to MLS, a new North American home, new questions around his role in the USMNT starting XI. Certainly such change comes with great opportunity, but as Jozy dealt with lingering injury issues, he continued his perplexing play that has been the subject of much speculation, including here at WTR.
Nonetheless, Altidore has been putting in the work at camp to start 2016 on the right (injury-free) foot. While his goals for the year are based in victory - an MLS Cup here, a Copa America there - it doesn't hurt his burst of motivation that he's only four goals shy of third place in the all-time scoring list for the USMNT.
While his TFC compatriot Bradley seems to have been in a "leadership position" since he first outgrew his training wheels, Altidore's position as a team leader has been a bit more tenuous. Jozy's technical skill has a higher ceiling than TFC has seen this past year, but what will be most fascinating to watch is whether or not he develops into a figure of respect amongst his international teammates. As Klinsmann has pushed his squad to be younger and younger, this means that Altidore, at age 26, is now one of the older regulars on the squad.
Michael Bradley, Man of the Year
Our fearless captain, recently toasted as U.S. Men's Player of the Year, has a lot to live up to.
Bradley is 28 years old - entering the prime of his career, statistically speaking - and, following his recent accolades, no doubt eager to prove his deservedness on the field. These upcoming two friendlies should provide just the perfect venue.
The burden of responsibility frequently placed on Bradley's shoulders may, at times, seem unfair, but it also never seems to bother him. This time, that burden is twofold: continue strategically leading the starting XI to victory and focus on mentoring younger teammates in preparation for the U.S.' olympic bid this summer.
It's that second challenge that may bear the strongest implications to TFC's fate this season. The USMNT squad is similarly dynamic in its scope of talent as TFC is - a wide range of seasoned veterans and young up-and-comers. Since donning the armband, TFC fans have been eager to see just how transformative his presence could be for academy players given their shot and younger teammates. If Bradley can demonstrate a proven leadership capacity in an arguably more difficult and disparate national team atmosphere, what's to say he can't leverage those same techniques at his club?
For these upcoming friendlies, look to his direction. "The General" will be earning his nickname with this younger generation, the success of which may mean everything for the 2016 campaign.
USMNT v Iceland
When the USMNT lines up against Iceland, there will be quite a bit of prestige riding on the outcome for the opposition in particular. Iceland will be absent their star players Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aron Gunnarsson, who are still with their clubs, but will be eager to continue climbing into the international community's line of sight.
While Iceland just barely missed qualifying for Brazil 2014, they're now coming fresh off of qualification for the 2016 Euro Cup for the very first time in team history. They're coasting high and have a squad of young talent eager to prove themselves worthy of the Euro 2016 starting squad - while the USMNT may be tempted to play it safe, they may not get the chance if Iceland begins the match at a high tempo.
So what to expect from our DPs today? A focus on quality, consistency, and health.
Per ESPNFC, Jozy Altdore noted, "I'm feeling good. I'm excited. I'm just trying to get myself fit and excited for what looks to be a long, long year."
Beginning that form in support of recent team adds, like Darlington Nagbe, will be of the utmost importance for Altidore while he continues to monitor that hamstring. Klinsmann will no doubt be careful not to overextend Altidore in what is only a friendly.
Meanwhile, Bradley will continue his captaining ways, directing the action and providing a healthy does of creativity in the attack. This has been a constant question for USMNT fans - just where does Bradley belong on the field? It's an almost identical question to dialogue surrounding his play with TFC. Is he a box-to-box midfielder? CDM? CAM?
Lately, Bradley's been playing his midfield a little further forward to contribute more heavily to attacking play and we fully expect that to continue, though it's dependent upon how confident he feels with the support behind him.
Across all-time matches, the USMNT is 2-2-2 against Iceland.
Up Next: CanMNT
Meanwhile, TFC fans, if they're watching, will be mostly eyeing this friendly to see what to expect against Friday for the USA vs. Canada duel.
From Coach Klinsmann's perspective, Canada may prove a similar test as Iceland will - both squads are surging better than that have in more recent history and will be playing to prove something. While the USMNT may be looking to these matches to begin gauging their own youth talent, they will not be eager to concede, especially with recent fan uproar calling for Klinsmann's job after the team delivered a disappointing end to 2015.
Friday's match may prove just the right test for both squads to win back some good will and belief from their fans. While draws are rarely a surprise in international friendlies, WTR would be surprised if neither squad put in a little something extra to try and snag a victory.
The only question will be - if Bradley and Altidore aren't wearing red, where will the loyalties fall?
Stay tuned Friday evening for further WTR coverage of USA vs Canada