Toronto FC-Columbus: TFC is headed back to MLS Cup

Nov. 29 in Toronto
Toronto FC 1 Columbus 0. Goal: Altidore (Vazquez) 60.
Att.: 30,392.

Toronto FC is headed back to MLS Cup, which it will again host, after beating Columbus Crew SC, 1-0, before more than 30,000 fans at BMO Field on Wednesday night. In contrast to last year's wild 7-5 series win over Montreal, Jozy Altidore's dramatic goal was the only goal over 180 minutes.

1. Jozy and friends decide the series with an instant of magic.

It might not be up there with Curt Schilling's “bloody sock” performance while pitching for the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 playoffs, but Toronto FC fans will be talking about Altidore playing and scoring on a bad ankle for a long time.

Hobbling badly after a collision with Harrison Afful in the 50th minute, Altidore signaled to be taken off the field, where he received treatment. But all it took was one burst of speed for Altidore to break free and beat Crew keeper Zack Steffen for the only goal of the game in the 60th minute.

The goal began when Sebastian Giovinco beat Crew defenders Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar to Alex Bono's long goal kick and back-heeled the ball to Altidore. The burly forward played a one-two with Spaniard Victor Vazquez, whose perfectly timed return pass allowed Altidore to slip past Abubakar and beat Steffen to the far post.

Eight minutes later, Altidore was subbed off.

2. Crew comes agonizingly close late in the game.

Columbus was still alive, though, needing only a goal to tie the game and move ahead in the series on the away goal rule.

In the final 10 minutes, the Crew piled on the pressure and came close several times. In the 80th minute, Justin Meram was free in front but fired his shot over the goal. Seven minutes later, Meram played a ball into the area, where sub Adam Jahn flicked the ball to the far post. All Ola Kamara needed to do to score was get a body part on the ball, but he did not see it until it was past him.

Giovinco did his best to kill the clock in stoppage time, but Bono needed to come out and snare a ball played into the area that sub Nick Hagglund hesitantly let go by him.

3. Steffen should get U.S. shot in goal in 2018.

Steffen added to his growing legend when he stopped Vazquez's penalty kick in the 25th minute to keep the game -- and series  -- scoreless.

In the Knockout Game at Atlanta, the 22-year-old keeper stopped penalty kicks by Julian Gressel and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the shootout as the Crew stunned Atlanta United.

It brought back memories of his play at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup, where he preserved the USA's 1-0 win over Colombia in the round of 16 with a late save on a penalty kick and twice stopped penalty kicks with the shootout on the line in the next round against Serbia.

The U.S. national team is in search of a long-term replacement for Tim Howard and Brad Guzan in goal and used seven different keepers in 2017, but Steffen's confident play should earn him a shot in 2018.

Trivia. Toronto FC will be the first team to host MLS Cup in back-to-back years since the hosting rights were awarded to the team with the best record.

Nov. 29 in Toronto
Toronto FC 1 Columbus 0. Goal: Altidore (Vazquez) 60.
Toronto FC -- Bono; Zavaleta (Delgado 46), Moor, Mavinga, Beitashour, Morrow, Bradley, Osorio (Hagglund 81), Vazquez, Altidore (Cooper 68), Giovinco.
Columbus -- Steffen; Afful (Jahn 80), Mensah, Williams, Abubakar (Manneh 73), Trapp, Abu, Santos (Jimenez 85), Higuain, Meram, Kamara.
Att.: 30,392

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