Jozy Altidore scores the game-winner on a bad ankle. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
TORONTO — Only minutes after he was the walking wounded at BMO Field Wednesday night, Jozy Altidore had his Toronto FC teammates walking on Cloud Nine.
Despite playing with an ankle injury that threatened to pull him from the match, Altidore tallied the game-winning goal in the 60th minute to boost the Reds into their second consecutive MLS Cup with a 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference final.
The hosts won the aggregate-goals series, 1-0.
“It was a gutsy performance,” Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney said.
Toronto FC, which played Columbus to a scoreless draw in the first leg, will host the winner of the Western Conference series between Seattle Sounders FC and Houston Dynamo. Seattle, which hosts the second leg Thursday night, won the opening leg, 2-0.
In the East, goals were at a premium — until Altidore found the net.
“Jozy is a guy who in the biggest moments, you want next to you,” Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley said. “We we needed him tonight … he found a way to make a difference.”
Altidore’s journey to the goal, however, was far from an easy one.
Eleven minutes after injuring his right ankle and limping around the field, Altidore tallied to give Toronto FC the lead on the hour.
The former Red Bulls striker went off to the sidelines, came back on and limped around the field for several minutes. With Armando Cooper preparing to enter the match, Altidore left the pitch again to have his right ankle worked on before re-entering the fray again.
It certainly was worth it.
In the 60th minute, Bono started the scoring sequence with a long punt that Sebastian Giovinco got possession of. He shuffled a quick pass to Altidore, who found Victor Vazquez. The midfielder returned the ball to Altidore, who penetrated deep on the right side before flipping the ball over goalkeeper Zack Steffen from four yards into the left side for his first goal of the playoffs and seventh of his career.
“I felt I couldn’t leave the game,” Altidore said. “I had more go give.
“Luckily, the chance came.”
Ola Kamara had the visitors’ first opportunity in the 18th minute as his shot from the left side turned out to be an easy save for goalkeeper Alex Bono.
Three minutes later, an open Justin Meram had a golden opportunity to put Columbus on top, but Bradley made a miraculous tackle six yards out to deny the Columbus forward. Kamara had shaken off Bradley on the run. Bradley then sprinted some 40 yards to make a spectacular sliding stop on Meram on the left side of the penalty.
The Reds themselves had a golden opportunity to take the lead as referee Ismail Elfath called a penalty on former New York City FC defender Josh Williams for knocking down Drew Moor in the box.
Vazquez drilled the ensuing penalty to the left corner, but Steffen dove the correct way to deny his foe and save his four PK of the season.
Needless to say after Altidore’s score, Columbus pushed forward for the equalizer, which would have been the game-winner because it would have been an away goal. But their passes and desperate shots were off target or Bono managed to get to the ball first, as he did with Kamara on the doorstep two minutes into second-half stoppage time.