TORONTO – It may have been hard to discern on Sunday night, but one of the two teams involved in the “Brouhaha at BMO Field” is a finalist for the MLS Fair Play Team Award.
Toronto FC were among three sides vying for that distinction, finishing second to eventual winners Seattle Sounders on the back of a record-breaking season that saw the Reds lift the Supporters' Shield.
The side committed the second-fewest fouls in MLS this season (354) and collected just 45 yellow cards (second-fewest in MLS) and a single red through 34 matches (tied for fewest in MLS).
TFC will be looking to return to those more disciplined ways for the remainder of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs after the series against the New York Red Bulls devolved into something less than soccer.
“We need to control our emotions,” said coach Greg Vanney on Monday. “Even the discussions on the field, when there are fouls, we need to let those things go and move on.”
Sunday night saw three of Toronto's most important players drawn into the mire that was the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Red Bulls.
Jozy Altidore saw yellow for a coming-together with Sacha Kljestan before both were given reds after the halftime fracas in the tunnel; TFC are appealing his red-card suspension.
Sebastian Giovinco also got his second booking of the postseason for dissent. He will not be available for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at Columbus Crew SC on Nov. 21.
And Michael Bradley was given a yellow after the halftime whistle when he approached the referee with some concerns.
Vanney took umbrage with calling Bradley's card undisciplined.
“I don't think Michael fell for any [antics],” said the TFC boss. “[He] was trying to have a discussion with the referee. He wasn't belligerent. Michael was outstanding in keeping his cool; he showed leadership.
“Seba was what Seba does sometimes,” continued Vanney. “He gets upset when he feels he is being manhandled around the field, physically fighting for inches, and felt like he got pushed. I would prefer him not to do what he did because there are repercussions. We've got to be more aware in those situations.
“And the Jozy situation was Jozy,” he added. “We've got to keep our cool.”
Vanney spoke with Altidore moments before the striker entered the tunnel.
“My quick comment was 'stay focused on the task at hand,'” recalled Vanney. “He was walking off the field. He was fine. He felt like, why am I the guy [being singled out]? He didn't do anything. They were looking for something that wasn't there and then they eventually found something.”
The concern is that may have been the Red Bulls' plan all along and TFC fell for it – a costly turn that may see them without both starting strikers against Columbus.
“We have to understand that that is a tactic,” explained defender Justin Morrow. “We have a strong team. Teams are going to do whatever they can to hurt us, to put us at a disadvantage. They know that when we're at full strength we're tough to play. That was [Red Bulls’] tactic: try to bully us, push us around, and get under our skin.
“If teams don't think they can beat us other ways, that is what they're going to resort to,” he continued. “We have to learn from that. Columbus will present a very different challenge to the Red Bulls. The game will be cleaner, but we have to know that that is an option for them.”
Where some saw cracks forming, TFC’s coach sees necessity born out of heightened competition.
“Playoffs are different,” said Vanney. “[They're] about appreciating that [difference] in a way that helps you win the championship. The guys recognize that a series with New York is going to be a small percentage about soccer and a big percentage about competition.”
The driving factor is the same it has always been, “to fulfill their final goal,” according to Vanney – that being an MLS Cup.
“I don't think the team is under any real pressure … outside of what they want, what they expect to do,” added Vanney. “There is focus, intensity, and desire to finish off this run.”