TORONTO — Twelve days and two review panels after striker Jozy Altidore's red card for violent conduct, Toronto FC is back where it started from.
Which is without the burly U.S. international forward for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final in Columbus on Tuesday.
Coach Greg Vanney said Friday that the MLS disciplinary committee had opted against extending Altidore's mandatory one-game ban for violent conduct arising from the halftime tunnel melee during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Red Bull on Nov. 5.
Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan, the other half of the tunnel rough-housing equation, was also ejected for violent conduct.
There was no immediate word from the league on whether the disciplinary committee had handed down any fines over the tunnel confrontation or what Kljestan's fate was.
Earlier this week, a separate independent panel upheld referee Chris Penso's decision to eject both players, rejecting appeals by Toronto and the Red Bulls.
Asked Friday if the delay between the two rulings and the incident itself had bothered him, Vanney replied "Yes and no."
"I guess it is what it is. People want to know what's going on so you've got to keep answering the questions," he added. "But I don't think it's a topic inside our locker-room or a discussion within our team, which is fine. I don't mind talking about it as long as they're not talking about it."
His players have had to talk about it with reporters, however. At times, the training centre scrums this week have seemed more like an episode of "Law and Order" than standard soccer fare.
Toronto will also be without striker Sebastian Giovinco on Tuesday. The mercurial Italian earned a one-game ban for picking up two yellow cards — for time wasting and dissent — over the two legs of the series win over the Red Bulls.
Vanney will likely use Canadian international Tosant Ricketts up front with Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez in a more forward role on Tuesday. Both Altidore and Giovinco will be back for Game 2 at BMO Field on Nov. 29.
Vanney said Altidore and Giovinco, who make a combined US$12 million this season, will accompany the team to Ohio despite their suspensions
The league's disciplinary committee, which is separate from the independent panel, is comprised of three former MLS players, one former MLS coach and a former MLS referee.
The disciplinary committee can extend red-card suspensions and/or issue a fine for "those offences the committee deems to be of an egregious nature, or where the committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game."
While Toronto was disappointed at losing its red card appeal, arguing that Altidore was not the aggressor in the tunnel incident, Friday's ruling could be seen as a welcome break — given that a mass skirmish outside the locker-room can hardly be seen as enhancing the integrity of the game. Especially when it was witnessed by fans in the adjacent Tunnel Club.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press