Toronto FC’s Altidore has a clear conscience over tunnel melee

Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney joined Prime Time Sports to discuss Jozy Altidores altercation with an opposing player at halftime during Sunday's 2nd leg match against the New York Red Bulls.

TORONTO – For a guy who is awaiting to hear if his suspension will get overturned and be allowed to play in a crucial playoff game, Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore remains the very picture of calm and cool.

Altidore on Thursday faced the media for the first time since last weekend’s contentious Eastern Conference semifinal second leg between TFC and the New York Red Bulls. Toronto lost the game 1-0, but it won the aggregate series on the away goals rule to advance to the next round.

An ill-tempered opening 45 minutes, to which both Toronto and New York contributed, spilled over into the tunnel leading back to the dressing rooms at BMO Field, with players and staff from both sides getting into a tussle and having to be separated by security staff and the police.

In the aftermath, Altidore and Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan were red carded for their roles in the halftime ruckus. Altidore’s expulsion means he is suspended for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against the Columbus Crew. Toronto is appealing the suspension, claiming it has evidence, including video, that clears Altidore of any wrongdoing and that would allow him to be reinstated.

For his part, Kljestan claimed that Altidore pushed him as they made their way down the tunnel on their way to their respective dressing rooms.

“At halftime he shoved me into the wall. I have a clear conscience. I don’t feel like I deserved a red card,” Kljestan told reporters after the game.

Altidore didn’t stick around to answer questions after Sunday’s match. He was also unavailable to speak to reporters at Monday’s practice as he was attending to personal business that was previously scheduled for that day, so Thursday was the first chance media members had to get his side of the story.

He maintains that Kljestan was the aggressor, not him.

“He came up behind me, tried to grab [me]. I just pushed him off me. He didn’t fall into a wall. None of that happened, so I don’t know what he’s talking about there. I walked right into the locker room, so I didn’t even see or know about the whole brawl thing until later on. I was not involved in [the melee] in any way. I defended myself quickly, and that was it,” Altidore asserted.

“The video doesn’t lie, and hopefully the league is going to do the right thing, which I’m sure they will.”

Altidore said he was only told about the red card by Toronto coach Greg Vanney just as he was about to make his way back onto the field.

“I was getting treatment and I was about to go out for the second half and Greg told me that I had been red carded. I was just as shocked as he was. It was what it was, we had to deal with it and the team dealt with it incredibly well,” Altidore said.

Now he has to wait to see if the league’s review panel will uphold the suspension, or rescind his red card. If it doesn’t, he can’t play in the first leg against the Crew.

“I’m not really distracted by it because I know what happened … I’m fine with it. The club is doing a great job handling it, and I’m looking forward to being part of both legs against Columbus,” Altidore said.

“The league is doing its due diligence. I know what happened. Everybody knows what happened there. There’s footage, and you can’t deny those things. I’m not worried about it.”

Altidore believes the entire situation has been blown out of proportion, and doesn’t hold any grudge against Kljestan, who he’s played with on the U.S. national team, or New York coach Jesse Marsch.

“I’ve played for Jesse as a coach and I have played with Sacha. I know they’re not terrible people. Sometimes shit happens,” Altidore offered.

Just before the first half whistle blew on Sunday, the fourth official walked over to Altidore on the pitch, a move that Vanney interpreted as unnecessary, and making something out of nothing – that it helped to stoke the fire after what was a chippy and physical first half.

But Altidore offered conciliatory words about the officiating crew, who many felt let the game get out of hand, which, in part, led to heightened tensions on the pitch before boiling over in the tunnel.

“Nobody’s perfect. Even they make mistakes, and we have to be conscious of that and let those things play out. Whatever the [fourth official] was doing, I’m sure he was trying to in his own way make sure nothing was going to happen,” Altidore said.

TFC has submitted video and other evidence to support their case that they will clear Altidore of any wrongdoing. Vanney said there is no timeline as to when a decision will be rendered.

“You can’t argue with the video; you can’t argue with what the facts are. I’m not worried about it,” Altidore stated.

Altidore finished second in team scoring during the 2017 regular season, with 15 goals in 27 appearances. He also chipped in with six assists, so it’s understandable why Toronto is anxious to get his suspension overturned.

Altidore’s potential absence would be especially hurtful for TFC considering they will be missing Sebastian Giovinco for the first leg. The Italian forward, who scored a team-high 16 goals this season and is a finalist for the league’s MVP award, picked up his second yellow card of the New York playoff series on Sunday, thus earning an automatic one-game suspension.

Toronto visits Columbus on Nov. 21 for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final. The Reds host the Crew in the return match on Nov. 29.

Toronto FC supporters get an inside look into their favourite club every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. It’s an all-access pass with co-hosts Brendan Dunlop and Thomas Michalakos as they interview the biggest names around the team and preview and review of every TFC match.