What in the world is a Canadian TFC fan to feel these days?
In a difficult international friendly across typically peaceful North American borders, it was once again Jozy Altidore who provided the winning goal. Once again, it was Toronto FC's Designated Players creating chances, looking confident, and elevating the USMNT's play through their presence and vision.
They just weren't doing it for Toronto FC.
International friendlies don't count for much - well, they don't count for anything, really. Nonetheless, there were many eager TFC and CanMNT fans tuned in to see how all their reds would perform.
There was plenty to like, dislike, and dissect in this one, despite the fact that it very nearly finished scoreless. Waking The Red has already looked at the match from the Canadian perspective, so let's look at things from the other side - that of the red (and white and blue).
Canada Should Walk Away Proud - USA Played To Win
While the USMNT may not have rolled out its full strength in its starting XI, the level of play on the field was still quite high. This was not the same kind of unfocused play that led to an abrupt Gold Cup departure in 2015 - these Americans, old and new, put forward an above average display even in spite of their miscues.
17 shots (7 on goal) certainly don't happen by accident. Furthermore, while USMNT fans will be happy to begin 2016 with back-to-back wins, there will no doubt be lingering expectations that things should be going even better. A 1-0 result with so much attacking pressure should have yielded a greater disparity in the scoreline - but, for now, Americans can simply shrug, mumble "Well, that's soccer, for ya," and go about their winning ways.
TFC fans may want to take special note of the MLS quality that the US rolled out in its lineup. In particular - Ethan Finlay was simply terrific. The Columbus Crew midfielder was subbed into the match in the 88' minute and immediately made an impact, laying up a beauty of a long cross for Jozy's redirecting, game-clinching header. Finlay was equally impactful in his performance against Iceland just earlier this week - it may even be time to wonder whether he'll work into the USMNT's starting squad.
Jordan Morris also played strong and provided both pace and strength in his scattered attempts in the attacking zone. His age was more clearly showing in this one when compared to his coming out party in 2015 international matches, but one must take note of his raw ability. Should his game develop quickly in the strong Seattle system, he could be an MLS force to reckon with in just a few short years. In the meantime, the partnership he's been building with our own Jozy Altidore is turning into something to behold.
Jozy Gonna Jozy - An Altidore Ignited
Take away the uniforms, nations, and allegiances and you'd be hard pressed to find a TFC fan to dislike this sight:
Jozy's game-winning header was a big goal at a crucial time, driven with the kind of confidence Reds fans have been hungry for all throughout 2015. However, Jozy was basically killing it all night, with 8 shots (though only 3 on goal) in total. Sure, his finish wasn't spectacular, but his work rate seems to have improved tenfold in the offseason.
WTR has already noted that Jozy's new diet, mental coaching, and weight loss may be significant and this followup match was no exception.
Perhaps most exciting for Altidore is his increased contribution to lead-up play without sacrificing his striking presence. He's getting smart one-touches on the ball, supporting his wingers, and quickly repositioning within the box for the finish. And despite losing 10 lbs, he's looking awfully confident in using his strength to create small pockets of space near the net.
What remains to be seen: how will a resurgent Jozy Altidore mesh with the goal-scoring focus of Sebastian Giovinco?
Bradley Settles Back In The Deeper Midfield
Jermaine Jones was awkwardly jammed into the Centre Back role, so perhaps it made sense to pull Michael Bradley back into the midfield for better long ball support, though, truth be told, it felt a little strange.
Bradley's been so focused on the attacking midfield role of late that returning to the Box-to-Box mentality could have easily derailed him. But alas - this is Michael Bradley we're talking about, consummate professional and wearer of a thousand hats - the change of pace didn't seem to faze him at all.
Ethan Finlay may get a good portion of the credit for setting up the winning goal (and deservedly so), but it was Bradley's superb, long, and accurate pass that set him up with space to surge on the left side in the first place. It would appear our captain's still got it - it's just a matter of what his focus for the day will be.
Bradley did finish the day with one shot on goal in the 39' after a dizzying build up, but his strengths on the day were more facilitation than attack. The US and TFC captain was keen to see the wide field and provide a useful pivot any time the US needed to retreat to retain possession.
In all, Bradley was not at his peak in this one, though he likely wasn't asked to perform at such a high level. He takes his role as mentor seriously and performed admirably in setting up the next generation for success on the field.
The commentators made note of the fact that Michael Bradley and Will Johnson are actually old pals who have played together extensively many years ago in Chicago. Will that chemistry remain when they suit up in red?
Next Up: Guatemala
The USMNT reconvenes for World Cup Qualifiers at the end of March, with a home-and-away series against Guatemala beginning with the away leg in Guatemala City on March 25. The home leg follows 4 days later on March 29 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
While this week's two friendlies fielded a variety of veterans and youth alike, the pressure of a WCQ match, even against Guatemala, will surely demand the rostering of the USMNT's most qualified veterans.
By then, of course, the MLS season will be in full swing. Thankfully, MLS will acknowledge the World Cup break and there won't be any scheduling conflicts, allowing Bradley and Altidore to fit in their responsibilities between away matches at Sporting KC (March 20) and Colorado Rapids (April 2).
With any luck, their successes this week will be on full display, evolved ever-forward by their TFC club play.