TORONTO – The atmosphere was already tense, and then Toronto FC fans saw their star striker go down with an apparent injury at the start of the second half.
With Toronto and Columbus Crew SC deadlocked at zeroes in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Championship, an innocuous play in the 49th minute seemed like a turning point in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs for one team.
Harrison Afful lost his footing, bringing Jozy Altidore down awkwardly and forcing the striker off for treatment. Altidore would return shortly, but within minutes was off again, getting further work done on his right ankle. It seemed his night was over.
But after some time Altidore, bandaged and wrapped, returned to the fray to prove the difference scoring the game's only goal in the 60th minute.
“The only word I can use to describe that is heroic,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono post-match. “He hobbles on the field, goes down a second time; we don't know if we're going to have to sub him off. And then he comes on the field, goes beast mode. I played the ball up to him, he taps it down, makes a run through, gets the ball back and puts it away.”
“Those are moments that dreams and memories are made of.”
Altidore knew right away his chance to make an impact would be limited: “I knew I couldn't continue when he fell on me. I had a problem with this ankle at the beginning of the year.”
“I needed to try and get some support on it,” continued Altidore. “We taped it up, tried that out, but I couldn't really put any weight on it. I wanted to give a chance for whoever was coming on to get some runs in and be ready to contribute. It all worked out in the end.”
Head coach Greg Vanney did too: “I said, 'Go hard for as long as you can and let me know where you're at. If you can't go, just tell me'. He didn't tell me, so I figured he was going to gut it out for as long as he felt he could.”
“The moment he scored, it was kind of like Keyser Soze,” said Vanney. “He went from limping to sprinting and finished it beautifully. It was a beautiful goal.”
Altidore put the credit on Victor Vazquez and that final pass, but acknowledged: “It's a big goal.”
That Altidore would prove the difference on such a night did not surprise longtime teammate Michael Bradley in the slightest: “When you're standing in the tunnel on nights like this and look behind you, when you see Jozy it's a damn good feeling.”
“You know what he's going to be about, that he's going to give you everything he has. On a night when it didn't necessarily come easily or simply, in a moment when nobody would have thought twice if he had come off, he found a way to keep going and make a big play for us,” continued Bradley. “So proud of him; so happy for him. We're going to need one or two more next week.”
With MLS Cup at BMO Field in 10 days (4 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás in US | TSN, TVAS in Canada), TFC expect the treatable ankle knock will not be an issue. It will be the second-straight year Toronto host the final and they will find out whether they face the Seattle Sounders or Houston Dynamo on Thursday night.
“I'm playing in the MLS Cup final,” said Altidore. “It doesn't matter how the ankle is, you're not taking that game from me.”