TORONTO (Reuters) - Jozy Altidore battled through the pain of an ankle injury to fire Toronto FC into the MLS Cup final for a second consecutive year with a 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew in the second leg of their Eastern Conference final on Wednesday.
Altidore, back in the side after serving a one-game suspension, scored the decisive goal after 60 minutes with a right-footed effort from the middle of the penalty area moments after twice hobbling off the field in obvious pain.
“I just knew I couldn’t live with myself if I came out of this game without making a play,” said Altidore, whose team missed a first-half penalty but recovered to seal a 1-0 aggregate win after last week’s first leg finished scoreless.
“I knew right away I couldn’t continue but I tried to give it another 10 minutes to see what I could do and luckily enough a play opened up and we got the goal.”
Altidore’s night had appeared over earlier in the second half when he limped off the field for a brief moment after Columbus defender Harrison Afful had fallen on his ankle.
A few minutes later, the 28-year-old American forward could barely walk and left the field again, this time to head to the Toronto bench before returning for a final spell up front.
Altidore then took matters into his own hands as he snapped a Toronto scoring drought that went back to the East semi-final a month ago with a brilliant finish. The forward was substituted eight minutes after giving his side the lead.
Italian Sebastian Giovinco, also back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension, instigated the move that set up the goal, holding off a number of defenders before backheeling the ball to Altidore, who quickly tapped it to Victor Vazquez.
The Spanish midfielder then paused briefly before sending a crisp pass back to Altidore.
“Seba won the ball, I was yelling for it and he played a good backheel and Victor does what he does all season, all his career,” Altidore added. “The weight of the pass is sublime and he scores the goal for me almost.”
Columbus knew they needed an away goal to deny top-seeded Toronto another final appearance and asserted some late pressure in search of an equaliser but the hosts fended off their desperate push to advance.
In the first half, Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen did well to keep the game scoreless when he dived to his right to stop a Vazquez penalty in the 26th minute after Drew Moor was hauled down by Josh Williams.
Six minutes earlier, Columbus midfielder Justin Meram had looked certain to open the scoring before he was denied by a last-ditch sliding block by Michael Bradley.
Toronto, who lost last year’s title match in a penalty shootout to Seattle, will host the MLS Cup final on Dec. 9 by virtue of having the highest regular season points tally among the remaining playoff teams.
Toronto could also exact revenge for last year’s defeat with Seattle taking a 2-0 lead over Houston back home for the second leg of the Western Conference final on Thursday, after the reigning champions put on a dominate display in the first leg.
Editing by John O'Brien