HARRISON, N.J. — First, fans in the South Ward shouted their feelings about Toronto FC – and US men's national team – players Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Then eventually, Altidore made his sentiments clear as well.
As Altidore, also a former New York Red Bulls forward, was subbed out in the 86th minute Monday, he paused to roll down his socks. Then he clapped toward his away support to the north, before turning with an even more animated, mocking applause to the home fans to the south. It took a gentle shove from Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan to get him off the field.
Following a 2-1 Toronto FC victory in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals — one where he and Bradley endured relentless abuse that went beyond booing, to foul-mouthed taunts that could be easily deciphered throughout the stadium — Altidore believed some fans had gone a little too far.
“I thought it was a little bit classless, with a place I gave a lot to, and they gave a lot to me, had some good memories,” Altidore said. “But it is what it is. There’s no loyalty anymore. I guess all bets are off.”
Altidore and Bradley were also loudly booed in Toronto’s last away game of the regular season, a 2-2 draw at Atlanta, in connection with their roles for a US men's national team that failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But Monday’s taunts had more cut, context and crassness to them.
Both players began MLS careers in New York, with Altidore scoring 15 league goals across three seasons as a teenager. Both also were part of the US side that unraveled before many of the same fans’ eyes in a damning 2-0 qualifying loss to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena last month.
“Being disappointed with the World Cup, I get, I understand,” Altidore said, differentiating between simple booing and the vulgarity of some chants. “But the other stuff is a bit disappointing. I never was disrespectful towards these people. It’s my first club, and I have so much admiration for the club.”
At most, Toronto will only play one more game away from BMO Field in 2017. It’s unclear whether similar scenes will follow Altidore and Bradley, should they advance from this semifinal. And perhaps they are easier targets than other USMNT players, because they play for a club that has had a dominant MLS season while playing north of the US border.
“I think there’s a certain number of fans who maybe have a real purpose for it, and then I think a lot of other people are doing it because it’s the thing to do,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “Whatever motivates our guys, I’m perfectly comfortable with.”
Altidore played well as a release valve for TFC in a sometimes choppy match, and he contributed a cross that led to Victor Vazquez’s opening goal.
That performance, he says, doesn’t nullify the lingering pain beneath.
“Nobody suffers more than the players,” Altidore said of missing the World Cup. “I get fans, they put a lot into it. We are nothing without our fans. But at the end of it, the biggest losers are the players and the program, not being able to further so much good work that we’ve done over the past 10 years.”