Kljestan gets additional ban; TFC and Red Bulls fined over tunnel melee

New York Red Bulls' Sacha Kljestan, left, vies for the ball with Toronto FC's Armando Cooper during second half action in Toronto on Sunday, September 18, 2016. (Chris Young/CP)

ORONTO — It appears Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan really was the villain of the piece in the halftime tunnel melee with Toronto FC in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Forty-seven days after the volatile contest Nov. 5 at BMO Field, Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee issued Kljestan an additional one-game ban and fine "as a result of an interaction with stadium security personnel."

The disciplinary committee, made up of three former MLS players, a former MLS coach and a former MLS referee, also handed out fines to both clubs and Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch for their roles in the incident.

MLS did not offer a reason for the delay in the ruling other to say that it follows a "thorough internal investigation."

Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore, who was red-carded with Kljestan for violent conduct, escaped further punishment in Friday’s ruling.

His fate was partially revealed Nov. 17 when Toronto coach Greg Vanney told reporters that the disciplinary committee had decided against a further ban for Altidore. That news came early because Toronto was still active in the playoffs.

Altidore, who denied any wrongdoing, served the one-game ban that came with the red card during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against Columbus. Kljestan will now miss the first two games of next season.

But the news was not all good Friday for Altidore. In a separate ruling, he was fined for simulation/embellishment in a clash with Kljestan earlier in the game.

Toronto said it had no comment on the tunnel confrontation ruling. But the fines are not unexpected.

The league’s disciplinary committee can add to the mandatory one-game suspension for a red card and/or issue a fine for "those offences the committee deems to be of an egregious nature, or where the committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game."

A violent clash outside the locker rooms would seem to be a clear violation of the integrity of the game.

In the wake of the match, both teams appealed the red cards to a separate independent panel, which on Nov 16 upheld referee Chris Penso’s handling of the situation.

The Toronto-Red Bulls series was prickly from the get-go, with TFC complaining to the league about fan abuse of Altidore in Game 1 at Red Bull Arena.

Altidore and Kljestan had words late in the first half of the return leg in Toronto after Altidore went to the defence of fellow striker Sebastian Giovinco, who was facing up with Tyler Adams. Kljestan ended up shoving Altidore, who toppled — somewhat easily — backwards.

That 33rd-minute fall earned Altidore the after-the-fact fine.

Altidore was still steaming when the half ended, his ire heightened after the fourth official ran onto the field to steer him away from another perceived potential incident. He went into the tunnel with Kljestan behind him.

What happened inside depends on who you spoke to.

Altidore said the Kljestan tried to grab him from behind, so he pushed him away. Kljestan said Altidore was the aggressor, shoving him against the wall.

Fan video shows a scrum of players, coaches and security with the Red Bulls near the Toronto locker room. The visiting team is supposed to turn left after exiting the field to get to its own dressing room.

Toronto felt strongly that Altidore was not the aggressor. It submitted security camera footage of the incident which it felt backed up its contention but later acknowledged the footage was incomplete because of the camera angle.

The video seemed to show Marsch was in the thick of the melee.

New York won the game 1-0 but lost on the away goals rule when the series ended in a 2-2 tie.

In other disciplinary action Friday, Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio was fined for simulation/embellishment in the 14th minute of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference championship against Columbus. Osorio was fined for diving in the penalty box.

The league did not disclose the amount of the fines.

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