TORONTO – No excuse to lose.
That’s the message from Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney in the aftermath of star forward Jozy Altidore being suspended for Saturday night’s crucial home game against the Montreal Impact.
On Wednesday, Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee announced that it issued a one-game ban to Altidore for his red card offence on New York City FC’s Alexander Callens in the ninth minute of a 3-2 home loss on Aug. 12.
A red card comes with an automatic one-game suspension, which Altidore served last Saturday – he sat out TFC’s 1-1 road draw versus the San Jose Earthquakes. But the disciplinary committee decided to tack on an extra game and an additional undisclosed fine for what it described as the TFC forward’s “violent conduct” when he kicked out at Callens in frustration.
Vanney described the extra-game ban as “harsh,” especially in light of what he feels were more serious and egregious fouls in MLS this season that went unpunished.
“What it essentially plays out to is [a three-game suspension]. We sized up a lot of different scenarios that have happened around the league this year, and I think this is a harsh suspension. I don’t agree with it, but we will, like we do with everything this year, manage it and get through it,” Vanney said after Thursday’s practice.
Vanney concedes that Altidore committed the foul, but he thinks tacking on an extra game is too much.
“He didn’t kick through the guy; he didn’t hurt the guy – it was a moment of emotion. I’ve seen millions of those, and I saw them even in that match when [TFC’s Jonathan Osorio] got kicked out at, so I just think it’s harsh in the grand scheme of things, but the decision has been made,” Vanney said.
“We manage it, we deal with it, and we move on. The next guy steps up, and we have to step up and play. We don’t have any spaces for excuses or for anything at this point.”
Vanney confirmed that he knew about the extra-game ban late last week. Once the club was informed of it, they filed an appeal. Wednesday’s announcement by the league confirmed that TFC’s appeal had been denied and Altidore’s ban would not be overturned.
This extra-game suspension could not come at a worse time for Altidore, who has three goals in seven MLS games in an injury-plagued season, and especially for TFC.
Montreal (10-13-3) currently holds down the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and sits three spots and nine points above Toronto (6-12-6) in the standings, although the Reds do have two games in hand. Failing to earn three points against San Jose (the last-place team in MLS) has put even more pressure on TFC ahead of this weekend.
With only 10 games left in the season, the margin of error is slim – very slim – for the Reds, so Saturday’s showdown at BMO Field could be a make-or-break contest when it comes to Toronto’s playoff destiny. It’s going to be that much more difficult for TFC without Altidore, who has 41 goals in 80 MLS games since joining Toronto in 2015.
With Altidore out of commission for Saturday, Vanney could insert newcomer Lucas Janson into the starting lineup alongside fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco.
“That’s one of the options. We have multiple forwards we can bring into the equation. We can use Janson in different roles, because he’s capable of playing any number of attacking positions, so we do have some different ways to play this,” Vanney explained.
Acquired by TFC in the first week of August, Janson made his MLS debut in San Jose, starting for the Reds and scoring the side’s lone goal in the 59th minute off a setup from Giovinco and Gregory van der Wiel.
Janson, who turned 24 last week, put in a man-of-the-match performance for Toronto, as he effectively linked up in the attack with midfielders Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio before being subbed out in the 66th minute.
Regardless of what Vanney does, players will have to step up to make up for the absence of Altidore in such an important game.
“We’ve dealt with it all year, whether you lose [players] to injury or lose them to a suspension. It reshapes your lineup and someone else has to step in and play a role. We’ve been doing that since Game 1 … For me, it’s frustrating but it’s part of the game,” Vanney said.
Last August, Altidore stoked the fires between the two teams before a game in Montreal when he talked about TFC potentially knocking the Impact out of playoff contention.
“It’s a great rivalry. [They’re] a good team, they have great fans. But I would love it if they missed the playoffs at our expense. That’d be beautiful,” Altidore admitted.
A year later, the shoe is on the other foot, with Montreal being able to deal a crushing blow to Toronto’s fading chances of qualifying for the post-season if it can win at BMO Field on Saturday night.
Altidore did not speak to reporters after Thursday’s practice.
Vazquez, Mavinga questionable for Saturday
TFC could potentially be missing two other key starters on Saturday. Midfielder Victor Vazquez and defender Chris Mavinga did not train on Thursday, as they are both dealing with nagging injuries.
Vanney confirmed that Vazquez had a cortisone shot in his knee this week, and that he is expected to return to training on Friday. At that point, the Spaniard will be reevaluated and TFC will determine whether he can play against the Impact.
Mavinga is in the same boat as Vazquez after having an MRI on his hamstring.
On the positive side, forward Sebastian Giovinco has participated in full training the past few days and is expected to play on Saturday. The Italian did not start in last weekend’s game in San Jose. Instead, he was a second-half substitute as he was dealing with a groin problem.