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Toxic Talk: When Your Narrative Gets Murky Edition

Welcome to Toxic Talk, where our resident hater tells you what sucks about soccer this week.

2017 MLS Cup - Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

When the United States Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, it felt good to lash out at the people responsible. Sunil Gulati, certainly. Bruce Arena, even better. And most of all, the players on the field in Trinidad, the ones who put on such a confusing, lackadaisical display that the unequivocally worst team in the Hexagonal tournament could waltz to a victory with such little effective resistance. Many players were rightly blamed for their part in that game and other games over the course of qualification.

Front and center amongst this group were team captain Michael Bradley and veteran striker Jozy Altidore. Both have seen more than their fair share of praise and vitriol thrown their way, in no small part because both seemed to have such bright futures that never quite seemed to pan out in the way fans wanted them to. Altidore was a record transfer when Villarreal bought him from MLS, and even when Spain didn’t quite pan out, he managed to set records in the Netherlands. Michael Bradley managed to climb to a prestigious spot in Roma’s starting XI. But both saw their fortunes in Europe fade, and both came back to MLS. There were a lot of people that hated them for that, and pointed out every flaw in each player’s game as a mark of MLS’s lower level of play.

Much of that criticism was deserved. It’s undeniable that Bradley looked began making more personal errors when he left Italy. Jozy has always been one of the streakiest strikers the U.S. has ever produced, equally capable of deciding games and disappearing from them. When the U.S. failed to qualify for Russia, people didn’t want either to play for the national team ever again.

And then come moments like Saturday, where Michael Bradley dominated the Seattle Sounders and Jozy showed how spotty his clutch gene can be, finally beating Stefan Frei when the ball came to him and the linesman’s flag fortuitously stayed down for him.

In an interview after the game, Taylor Twellman asked Michael Bradley how he felt, and what he would like to say to the people who doubted him. The examples he gave came from MLS, but it was clear the subtext went deeper. to the night in Trinidad. Bradley said he didn’t have anything to say to them, only that he loved the game, loved playing, and just wanted to keep getting better.

Maybe you’ll never forgive or forget Bradley and Altidore’s part in the 2018 failure. Maybe you will continue to curse MLS’s existence and any player that chooses to ply their trade their that might also suit up for the USMNT. That’s fine. That’s your right as a fan and person. Personally, I find it kind of exhausting. And maybe you can discount these performances as more MLS tedium that doesn’t mean much because it’s MLS. Do I think the MLS championship game helps or forms a player as much as playing in England or Germany? Probably not.

But the players don’t really care about your narratives, and if there are any two players that have shown they care and care deeply about the national team and continuing to try to play and win, it’s Bradley and Altidore. Sorry if that muddies your narrative or you disagree. But the two will continue to be a part of the USMNT. That’s just a fact.

Boiling Points

  • And the headline of the week goes to -

Maybe just take the L in peace next time, Jose.

  • MLS Trade Day -

You can catch up on MLS trade news from Sunday’s half-day trade window within the league and all the personnel finagling therein. The biggest move of the day was Walker Zimmerman being shipped to newcomers Los Angeles FC in return for first place in the allocation order. LA get a proven young center back (albeit one that had a terrible second half last season), while Dallas certainly looks like they’re up to something.

  • Putting Hope In It -

Hope Solo entered the race for USSF president, much to pretty much everyone’s surprise. Between her and Eric Wynalda, we have most of the senior US International player scandals covered amongst the candidates.

  • Hammer, Meet Nail

Didn’t see that one coming. Chelsea fall further off the pace, and Manchester City are now 11 points clear of second place Manchester United. It’s starting to look inevitable in England, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

  • Tigres Take It -

Heartbreak for Monterrey and American Jonathan Gonzalez.

Tigres take down rivals Rayados and win their third Liga MX title in five seasons. A disappointing end to the season for Gonzalez, but one that ultimately points to much, much bigger things to come for the youngster.