Best of MLS: Top 5 controversies of 2017

Sacha Kljestan - New York Red Bulls - RBNY - Jozy Altidore - Toronto FC - TFC

Editor's Note

Earlier this year, the staff took a look back at the 2017 season, ranking a few of the top controversies that got everyone around the league riled up in 2017. Take a look at our list and let us know what you think.

—Sam Stejskal, Contributor | Dec. 29, 2017

Bulletin board material, fuel for the media fire and plenty of good, old-fashioned entertainment. Controversies don’t decide matches, but they do add lots of intrigue to every MLS season.

2017 was of course no exception. What were the top controversies of the year? Let’s dive in:

Brouhaha at BMO

Jozy Altidore. Sacha Kljestan. Greg Vanney. Jesse Marsch. Michael Bradley. A weirdly lit tunnel at BMO Field, a shove or two, and a lot of he-said-he-said allegations.

We might never know exactly what happened outside the Toronto FC locker room at halftime of the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls, but we do know that the brief fracas between the two teams had major effects on the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Altidore and Kljestan, who got into it on the field just before the break, were ejected for their roles in the altercation, leaving the Red Bulls without their top playmaker for their unsuccessful comeback attempt and keeping Altidore out for the first leg of Toronto’s Eastern Conference Championship series against Columbus. That didn't end up mattering much for Toronto or Altidore, who returned in the second leg of the East championship to score the winner before bagging the winner again in MLS Cup. 

Petke vs. The Printer

Mike Petke gave us perhaps the greatest press conference rant in MLS history this year, when the Real Salt Lake head coach went off after his team’s 1-1 home draw against Sporting Kansas City.

The topics of his ire? The referees, his red card, a Kyle Beckerman suspension, and a lack of a ban for Sporting KC’s Ilie Sanchez. Oh, and a printer. Can’t forget that. Take it away, Mike:

Barrios-gate for FCD

A firestorm with playoff implications erupted around FC Dallas in October, after the team illegally used Michael Barrios as a substitute in a draw at Orlando City.

Barrios was on the original starting lineup sheet submitted by FCD to match officials 60 minutes before the start of the match. The club then opted to take him out of the XI for Tesho Akindele 15 minutes before kickoff. Under MLS rules, Barrios then should’ve been ineligible to pay. Instead, he remained on the bench and in the 18, with referees allowing him to take Akindele’s place on the list of substitutes.

Barrios ended up entering in the 84th minute of the scoreless draw, putting FCD in violation of league roster rules. Orlando notified the league of the offense shortly thereafter, with MLS – after public outcry calling for FCD to be forced to forfeit – fining the club $75,000 in General Allocation Money and an additional $25,000 for the violation.

Ali Curtis leaves New York in a cloud

It didn’t happen during the season, but the shocking, extended ouster of former New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis was one of the most bizarre stories of 2017.

The Red Bulls were hounded by all sorts of wild reports during at the MLS Combine and SuperDraft in LA. Head coach Jesse Marsch wasn’t in attendance during the Combine, instead in Europe with Red Bull Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg. It was reported that the manager was in talks to leave New York and head to Salzburg, a report that the Red Bulls denied as Marsch arrived at the draft.

He joined up with the rest of the Red Bulls’ coaching staff in Southern California, but there was no reunion with Curtis. As Marsch returned to the States, Curtis left LA due to what the team called “unforeseeable” circumstances back in New York. He wasn’t heard from again until a month later – well after the club’s stunning trade of captain Dax McCarty – when it was announced that he would be leaving his post and Denis Hamlett would be taking over as technical director.

It was a shocking turn for an exec that had taken over only two years before and had seen the Red Bulls finish the regular season as the Eastern Conference’s first seed in both of his years in charge.

Jermaine Jones, Mexico fan? 

A show of CONCACAF pride? Or an unforgivable nod to a hated rival?

That was the debate around LA Galaxy and US national team midfielder Jermaine Jones’ strange choice to put the US-Mexico rivalry aside to don an El Tri jersey in support of their run at the FIFA Confederations Cup in June.

Jones was seen rocking his Galaxy teammate Giovani dos Santos’ Mexico shirt while also holding up a Chicharito Mexico jersey just a week after the two countries met in a World Cup qualifier at the Azteca.

Jones, who caught plenty of heat for the move from US fans, hasn’t suited up for the USMNT since.