Toronto FC's playoff victory marred by embarrassing, stupid Jozy Altidore red card

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/jozy-altidore/" data-ylk="slk:Jozy Altidore">Jozy Altidore</a> was given a yellow card for a ridiculous dive, then sent off at halftime for violent conduct in the tunnel. (Getty)
Jozy Altidore was given a yellow card for a ridiculous dive, then sent off at halftime for violent conduct in the tunnel. (Getty)

Toronto FC is, as expected, going to the MLS Eastern Conference finals. But Sunday’s semifinal second leg against the New York Red Bulls, which ended 1-0 to New York, was anything but uneventful.

Toronto, the East’s top seed and arguably the best team in league history, advanced on away goals, courtesy of its 2-1 victory in New Jersey six days earlier. But it received quite the scare from the Red Bulls, who scored via a wicked deflection early in the second half.

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Toronto then needed a massive save from goalkeeper Alex Bono to prevent Bradley Wright-Phillips from notching a second goal that would have put New York through.

But the madness began in the first half with stupidity from Jozy Altidore. After a hard Sebastian Giovinco foul on Tyler Adams, Altidore grabbed Adams and incited a scuffle. He had fiery words with the 18-year-old American midfielder and other Red Bulls players. He then got into an argument with Sacha Kljestan, and after the two went chest to chest, Altidore flung himself to the ground:

It was an embarrassing, disgraceful dive. Both Altidore and Kljestan were shown yellow cards. But the afternoon would get worse for both.

Right before the halftime whistle, Altidore went into a clean challenge with Felipe, but the fourth official sensed trouble and raced off the sideline – probably unnecessarily. It’s unclear whether that contributed to everything that happened during halftime, but certainly the general feistiness of the first half did.

Michael Bradley was shown a yellow for arguing with the referee before heading to the locker room. Meanwhile, or afterward, in the BMO Field tunnel, the two teams went at it. Video has since emerged of the fracas:

It’s tough to tell exactly what transpired, but somewhere within the mass of bodies, and perhaps at the heart or at the start of it, there was an incident involving Altidore and Kljestan. Both were shown red cards, reportedly for violent conduct.

Due to the red, Altidore will be suspended for the first leg of the conference finals. If the sending off was indeed for violent conduct, he could receive a lengthier ban, which would be disastrous for Toronto.

But manager Greg Vanney was hopeful MLS would review the incident. He, as well as other TFC staffers, blamed the incident on the Red Bulls. “There’s video footage, I think, of what happened in the tunnel,” Vanney said. “By my estimation, or what I’ve heard, Jozy basically got ambushed in the tunnel and we’ll see where that goes.”

Vanney elaborated on the TFC side of the story: “Jozy was followed in and basically confronted. He turned around, and my understanding is, next thing you know there were four, five, six Red Bulls people all rushing him, towards him, at the same time. The rest, we’ll see.”

Kljestan, though, had a different story to tell:

Altidore apparently saw Kljestan’s take on the incident, and responded with a since-deleted tweet. “Yo @SachaKljestan why you snitchin bro?” he wrote. “You tried to pull up on me while my back was turned and almost got that work. Safe flight.” He punctuated the tweet with a couple emojis: a two-finger peace sign and an upside down smiley face.

(Screenshot: Twitter)
(Screenshot: Twitter)

With Altidore out of the game, the favorites weren’t effective going forward. New York had the better of the play, and very easily could have nicked an aggregate winner. Giovinco, in particular, was frustrated without has strike partner to link up with.

With 10 minutes remaining, Giovinco was stripped of the ball. The referee correctly waved play on, but the Italian forward ran back up the field incensed. He was shown a yellow for dissent, his second of the semifinal series, meaning he too will miss the first leg of the conference final.

The second half, as a whole, was nervy for TFC. Its fans didn’t help, either. They hurled streamers and other debris on the field, and howled in discontent after every call. They probably contributed to the petulant atmosphere on the pitch, which significantly marred a dramatic game.

Toronto ultimately held on, but among the scenarios that involved it advancing, this was just about the worse case. Both sides were at fault for the intermittent skirmishes, but there was no need for Toronto’s players to get sucked in, and certainly no need for them to instigate. It’s unclear what exactly happened in the tunnel. It is clear, though, that it stemmed from the first-half antics.

TFC will face Columbus later in November, and it will probably be favored. But Altidore lost his head, and Giovinco, to a lesser extent, lost his too. Their inability to control their emotions will make for tough sledding in the first leg on the road.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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