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Michael Bradley & Jozy Altidore give Toronto FC huge boost ahead of tough stretch

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The Reds are no longer facing the prospect of visiting FC Dallas, Orlando City and New York City without two of their best players.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

To say Toronto FC’s schedule around the Gold Cup was looking somewhat daunting would be an understatement.

Without two of their stars in Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore on top of as many as five other first-team players, the Reds faced trips to FC Dallas and Orlando City - both of whom are currently on course for a playoff spot - in early July.

They could also expect to be without Bradley and Altidore for a visit to New York City FC, a home match against the Colorado Rapids and potentially the reverse fixture with NYCFC, too, assuming the USA were to go deep into the knockout stage.

So whether it was Bruce Arena’s call or the product of some negotiations between U.S. Soccer and TFC, the news that Bradley and Altidore will be available for at least the first two of those matches is a major boost to the Reds.

MLS: D.C. United at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Even if the USA make the final on July 26, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the duo could return to Toronto in time to play some part in the second New York City match on July 30, meaning they would only miss the trip to Yankee Stadium and what should be one of the more straightforward games on the schedule this year at home to the struggling Rapids.

For the Dallas match, in particular, it is almost a double win for TFC.

That should be a huge test against a side that could well be the opponent if Toronto are able to make it back to the MLS Cup final in December, but it did not look like being the heavyweight bout it has the potential to be due to international call-ups. It still doesn’t, but now in a way that benefits the Reds.

Whereas Toronto have kept two of their key men out of the Gold Cup group stage, Dallas will lose their star centre-back and central midfielder in Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta respectively, both of whom Arena has named in his 23-man squad. Hedges’ usual partner, Walker Zimmerman, may also have made the roster if not for a knee injury that will almost certainly prevent him from featuring when Toronto visit.

Soccer: FIFA World Cup Qulifier-Trinidad & Tobago at USA Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Oscar Pareja is also likely to be without Tesho Akindele, who has been a regular feature in Canada’s squads, and Honduras international Maynor Figueroa, who is normally a left-back but has been filling in for Zimmerman in the centre of defence.

Dallas are not short of talent - especially with Mauro Diaz back in the fold - but without their heartbeat in Acosta and a huge chunk of their back line, the Reds will fancy their chances.

Orlando’s losses will be much less severe if Cyle Larin has completed MLS’ substance abuse program by July 5, with only Will Johnson departing to join the Canada squad. The availability of Bradley and Altidore, though, significantly increases Toronto’s chances of picking up points from a tough Eastern Conference matchup on the road.

It cannot be denied that New York City will be a major test as Bradley and Altidore take their leave. NYCFC will only lose two starters in goalkeeper Sean Johnson (USA) and winger Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica) to the Gold Cup, and Johnson could be swapped out for Tim Howard after the groups. Patrick Vieira will also expect to be without Wallace’s compatriot Ronald Matarrita and Panamanian midfielder Miguel Camargo, but they are both rotation players rather than regular starters.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Only having one fixture in which it seems the odds are really stacked against TFC instead of three, however, could make July a rather different month than we expected.

A few smaller challenges remain; most notably, Greg Vanney will have to hope Ashtone Morgan can get his MLS career back on track and replace Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards at left-back, with Morrow getting his well-earned USA nod and Edwards almost certain to be named in Octavio Zambrano’s Canadian group.

Vanney will also have to cope with less midfield depth than usual without Armando Cooper and (in all likelihood) Jonathan Osorio, but a less hectic schedule than we have become used to of late will help there. Tosaint Ricketts’ often game-changing cameos off the bench will be missing, too, but Jordan Hamilton is starting to develop a bit of a knack for that role.

Before we get to that tricky July stretch in MLS, of course, there is the small matter of the second leg of the Canadian Championship final to be taken care of.

Toronto will have Bradley, Altidore and their Canadians at their disposal for the visit of the Montreal Impact, and claiming the trophy on Tuesday night could now mark the beginning of a statement run of results rather than a stretch in which the Reds simply hang on as best they can to the status they have established over the first four months of the season.