Here are the ten things we learned from the 2017 MLS Conference Semifinals.
1. Toronto Loses Its Cool
Jozy Altidore is great player, but his conduct in the first half of Toronto’s game on Sunday against the Red Bulls was phenomenally stupid.
Whatever the particulars of the tunnel incident with Sacha Kljestan were, Altidore was so easily wound up in the first half, so willing to instigate, it was just matter of time before he ended up in the serious disciplinary trouble.
It wasn’t just Altidore. The sequence in which the forward and Kljestan first quarreled started with an ugly and completely unnecessary foul from Giovinco – who, unsurprisingly, would later draw a booking for dissent and is now suspended for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final.
All game long, Toronto chaffed. Michael Bradley got a yellow for dissent, Victor Vazquez swung out at Tyler Adams, Greg Vanney got into it with Jesse Marsch. It was a total meltdown for the leaders of a team that had, until Sunday, faced virtually no adversity this year.
Passion is good, but that was a display of pure idiocy. The Red Bulls had everything to gain by making the game a mess, and TFC had everything to lose. Now, the Reds will go into Columbus with two of their biggest players.
If Toronto is going to lose in these playoffs, they’re going to contribute heavily to their own downfall. That process has begun.
2. US Failure Taking Its Toll?
You have to at least ask the question. Altidore and Bradley have been booed relentlessly in opposing stadiums in recent weeks, and the pressure to bring Toronto MLS Cup is immense.
We saw Altidore crack on Saturday, and we saw signs of the same from his captain teammate.
The psychological weight of the U.S.’s failure to qualify for Russia will be felt for a long time – for the soccer in this country, for the program, and especially for the players involved. We might be seeing signs of that too.
3. Red Bulls Come Up Just Short
This playoff failure won’t sting as badly as a myriad of others for the Red Bulls, but the manner of how they ended up succumbing to TFC will sting.
The Red Bulls got just about everything they needed on Sunday. They were under Toronto’s skin. They kept a clean sheet. They even got an improbably lucky opening goal. And nonetheless, they were bounced out of the playoffs again.
Bradley Wright-Phillips had the golden chance to fire New York into the East final when he went clean through on the hour mark, but his effort was meek and saved by Alex Bono.
After what transpired in the first leg, New York would have done just about anything to get their 100-goal striker a chance like that with the series on the line.
Wright-Phillips did officially get the one goal – though he didn’t know much about it – but his failure to put that chance away was in equal parts devastating and familiar. For the Red Bulls, the wait for playoff triumph stretches on.