Jozy Altidore

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Toronto FC 2-1 Tigres: Reds punch back

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Jonathan Osorio and Jozy Altidore scored second half goals as Toronto FC came back to top UANL Tigres 2-1 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal at BMO Field on Wednesday.

Eduardo Vargas gave UANL Tigres a 1-0 lead, but the Liga MX side was behind the 8-ball the rest of the night.

The second leg is at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Estadio Universitario.

[ MORE: USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup ]

Chances were at a premium in the first half, and the match deservedly went to halftime at nil-nil.

Tigres swapped Enner Valencia for Andre-Pierre Gignac at hafltime, giving the Reds a tactical challenge in adjusting to two very different strikers.

A moment after Jozy Altidore was stymied by Jose Francisco Torres, the big TFC striker was livid with the referee’s decision to not award him a 49th minute penalty.

Vargas beat Alex Bono in the 53rd minute, the Chilean scoring in yet another big spot.

TFC should’ve been level two minutes later, but Osorio opted for using the outside of his right foot over the natural path of Altidore’s cross to his left. The shot zipped over the goal.

Giovinco won a free kick dribbling through traffic in the 57th minute, but couldn’t get his shot to dip under the bar.

Altidore put the Reds ahead when Marky Delgado one-touched the big striker in on goal, and Altidore slid the ball home to make it 1-1.

Gignac then nearly beat Bono with a similar volley to Vargas’ goal, but the ball bounded wide of the far post.

The tide had swung in Toronto’s favor, and Giovinco won another free kick — perhaps with embellishment — near the chalk of the 18. The wall served its purpose.

Michael Bradley was at his very best in producing what could’ve easily been a go-ahead goal, swooping in front of a Tigres pass and then making a nifty 1v1 move before delivering a world-class cross that Altidore bungled on the six.

Osorio got the winner in the 89th minute, backheeling Giovinco’s cross into the Tigres goal.

Chris Mavinga made an outstanding challenge to stop Ismael Sosa late.

Here’s the winner:

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File
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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

[ MORE: Kamara to La Liga? ]

The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Champions! TFC crowned MLS Cup champs for first time

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less more): For the first time in franchise history, Toronto FC are champions of Major League Soccer. The best team in the regular season, the last team standing in the postseason. For more than an hour, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle, the side that broke TFC hearts a year ago, looked painfully familiar for Reds fans, as Stefan Frei, MVP of the 2016 final, turned in another man-of-the-match performance and appeared altogether unbeatable. The Swiss-turned-American goalkeeper made 10 saves before Altidore broke through for TFC, courtesy of some gorgeous build-up play flowing through fellow superstars Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco. TFC thoroughly dominated from start to finish — again, just like last year’s final — to the tune of 22 shots to 7 (11-2 on target). If not for Frei’s early-game heroics, the score would have been 3-0 by halftime. The postseason title puts a tidy bow on top of an already historic season for TFC, who set a new regular-season points record — in a much tougher Eastern Conference, to boot — and leaves little to no doubt over which team was truly the best of 2017.

[ BRADLEY: “Dream became obsession” in pursuit of MLS Cup ]

Three Four Five Six moments that mattered

11′ — Frei rushes out to deny Giovinco — Frei and Sebastian Giovinco will get the majority of the attention here (for the save and blown chance, respectively), but the 50-yard through ball from Victor Vazquez is the real story here. It almost doesn’t look real.

41′ — Frei denies Vazquez at full-stretch — Frei’s made six saves in the first half — none of which were individually spectacular in difficulty,

60′ — Bradley fires from distance, Frei saves again — Michael Bradley, who was neck-and-neck with Frei for best player on the field, made solid contact on a volley from 25 yards out, but Frei was able to get his body behind the bouncing ball and record save no. 8.

64′ — Frei gets to Giovinco’s shot through traffic — Frei couldn’t have seen this ball through a sea of bodies more than a quarter-second before reacting and diving to his left-hand post.

67′ – Finally, at long last, Frei is beaten — For the first time in 714 minutes of playoff soccer, Seattle are beaten. From back to front in five passes and 11 seconds, finished by Altidore, lifted over Frei and into the back of the net.

90+4′ — Vazquez slams home a rebound for 2-0 — Armando Cooper slammed the initial shot off the post, but Vazquez cleaned up the mess to send BMO Field into bedlam.

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Man of the match: Michael Bradley

Goalscorers: Altidore (67′), Vazquez (90+4′)

Toronto FC heading back to MLS Cup Final

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in (a bit more than) 100 words: Toronto FC is going to host the MLS Cup for the second-straight season, and this time could become the first team in league history to claim a domestic treble (TFC won the Canadian Championship and the Supporters’ Shield). Victor Vazquez saw his first half penalty saved by Zack Steffen, but the ex-Barca man had the primary assist on Jozy Altidore‘s goal to put the hosts in front after an hour of play. Altidore, by the way, had been limping around on a bum wheel for a good 7-10 minutes for his best Willis Reed impression.

Columbus had three glorious chances, and Ola Kamara couldn’t find an 88th minute loose ball through traffic with nothing but goal in front of him. Justin Meram had the other two. In the first half, he was foiled by Michael Bradley. In the second, he scooped over the bar.

Three moments that mattered

22′ — TFC’s captain catches up to the Crew — Bradley was a little lax in his tracking, and that allowed Columbus a 2v1 chance. Ola Kamara slid the ball across to Justin Meram, but Bradley timed his sliding intervention well and broke up the play.

26′ — Steffen saves TFC PK — Josh Williams hauled down Drew Moor on a corner kick, and Vazquez strode to the spot. His quick run-up attempt was foiled when Steffen flew to his right to parry Vazquez’s attempt. It remained scoreless.

60′ — Giovinco to Jozy to Vazquez to Jozy — Sebastian Giovinco sucked two defenders to him a few yards outside the 18, the backheeled to Altidore for a 1-2 with Vazquez that ended up inside far post’s side netting (Kisses thumb and pointer finger like I made a nice sauce).

87′ — Kamara can’t find equalizer (literally) — Ola Kamara has scored a lot of goals, so it’s going to drive him nuts that this one eluded his vision.

Goals: Altidore (60′)

Man of the Match: Justin Morrow

MLS Conference Finals: Toronto, Seattle on collision course?

Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
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The ties are leaning away from the underdog stories as the MLS Cup Conference Finals reach their second legs.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. preview ]

Reigning champs Seattle are 90 minutes away from a return to the final after scoring a pair of away goals in Texas, while Toronto needs a win at home to bring out the fine china for a rematch of the 2016 title game at BMO Field.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday
Scoreless after one leg

The good news for Columbus Crew is that a scoring draw is good enough to take them through to a second MLS Cup Final in three seasons under Gregg Berhalter, taking the embarrassment of owner Anthony Precourt’s public desire to relocate an MLS original club to Austin, Texas.

The bad news? That scoring draw has to come at noisy BMO Field against the team with the best record in MLS history, a Toronto FC bunch which will be welcoming Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back to the fold after suspension.

Columbus has veteran savvy and some wild cards like Pedro Santos, but it’s going to take a lot of defending to handle TFC’s field-switching work and busy full backs (let alone Altidore and Giovinco).

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Seattle leads 2-0

Clint Dempsey is among the most important and accomplished players in American history, and his work since returning to Major League Soccer certainly ticks a lot of boxes: influential, clutch, prolific.

He’s helped the Sounders to an almost insurmountable advantage. At home for the second leg, the Sounders can make Houston’s task near impossible just by scoring a goal.

That said, Wilmer Cabrera is a heck of a coach and has assets that can attack and fire at will. While it may be improbable for Alberth Elis and Erick Torres to spring a massive comeback in Washington, it’s not quite impossible. That’s about as much as we can give the orange-clad men from Texas.