Major League Soccer now has its Bobby Baun moment.
Hobbled by an ankle injury suffered just minutes earlier, a limping Jozy Altidore emerged as the hero on Wednesday night when he scored the lone goal in Toronto FC’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final.
With the victory, TFC advances to the league championship final for a second consecutive year, and will host the MLS Cup on Dec. 9 at BMO Field.
After nearly having to be subbed out following a painful collision, Altidore took his chance brilliantly on the hour mark, fighting through the discomfort and latching onto a perfectly weighted pass from Victor Vazquez before firing home to clinch the aggregate series for the Reds.
In the post-match press conference, Altidore said that he couldn’t really move and was just hobbling around the pitch after getting his ankle taped up on the sidelines. When he came back in, he knew he couldn’t last long, so he was simply trying to stay on the field long enough to give his potential replacement enough time to warm up. He ended up scoring the winner.
“I knew that’d I have trouble continuing at the level that would be needed for a game like that. But I also wanted to give whoever was coming on potentially a little bit of time to get ready. I knew if there was a chance I could make a play, I wanted to be on the field for it. It all worked out in the end,” Altidore said.
TFC coach Greg Vanney gave Altidore a simple set of instructions when he re-entered the game.
“When he went back in after he taped it up, I said, go hard for as long as you feel like you can go and let me know where you’re at. The only way to test it is to push it. If you can’t go, then just tell me,” Vanney explained.
“He didn’t tell me, so I figured he was going to gut it out for as long as he could. The moment when he scored, it was like Keyser Soze — he went from limping to a perfect sprint and finished it beautifully.”
“In a moment when nobody would have thought twice if he had been subbed out, he found a way to keep going and make a big play for us. I’m so proud of him, so happy for him,” Bradley said.
Played out before 30,392 spectators, this second leg was a tightly contested match between two sides who engaged in a cat-and-mouse contest in last week’s 0-0 draw in Ohio. Altidore and fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco were suspended for the first leg, but both had a hand in Wednesday’s lone goal, with the Italian serving as the setup man and the American finishing it off.
Toronto is now 90 minutes away from completing what would surely go down as the single greatest campaign in MLS history. The Reds repeated as Canadian club champions in 2017, and set a new record for most points in a single regular season with 69. All that remains is hoisting the MLS Cup trophy.
TFC will have that chance in large part thanks to Altidore. The American has scored some important goals during his time in Toronto. This was the biggest, though.
“This city means a lot to me. I came here [in 2015], and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t know what to expect from me. We were feeling each other out. It’s a beautiful love story, because I fell in love with this city, and I think the fans have fallen in love with me. I hope [TFC] is the last club I play for,” Altidore said.