Toronto FC did some detective work on Monday.
The Reds’ staff has been busy compiling both video footage from security cameras and witness accounts - from five security guards and three police officers, per Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press - that they believe will create a clearer picture of exactly what transpired when TFC and the New York Red Bulls clashed in the BMO Field tunnel on Sunday.
Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan, who had already been booked for a coming-together in the first half, received straight red cards for their part in the altercation during the half-time interval.
Toronto, in short, believe Altidore was jumped by Kljestan and a number of other Red Bulls who had deliberately followed him past their own locker room, and want MLS to consider rescinding his dismissal.
MLS hands red-card appeals over to an independent panel, per Kurt Larson of the Toronto Sun. The panel consists of one U.S. Soccer official, one Canada Soccer official and a representative from the Professional Referee Organization.
As it stands, Altidore will serve a suspension of at least one match, ruling him out of the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against the Columbus Crew. If the panel judges he was guilty of violent conduct, the ban could be extended.
But TFC seem to believe their appeal has a legitimate chance of success. “We think the security footage speaks for itself,” Reds president Bill Manning told Davidson.
If Altidore was to be cleared it would generate another storm of controversy in what has already been a tumultuous MLS Cup playoffs for the league’s officials, with the evidence that was the basis for any such decision presumably remaining private. It’s good news for Toronto, in that respect, that MLS itself is not responsible for the ruling.
A potential weakness in TFC’s case, though, is that no one from the club has made any comment on how Altidore reacted to the alleged provocation in the tunnel. Even if the American was not the instigator, he is very unlikely to see his red card withdrawn if he responded physically.
Kljestan claims Altidore pushed him into a wall.
The panel’s decision must be unanimous for the red card to be overturned and it is hard to feel, all in all, that TFC fans should be hopeful they will see Altidore in the lineup at Mapfre Stadium unless the evidence gathered presents a picture that shows he was seriously wronged.
How quickly the independent panel will rule on the case is not clear. Normally, Toronto could expect to learn Altidore’s fate by the end of the week but extra time for deliberation could be afforded by the international break.
A previous version of this story stated that MLS’ disciplinary committee would rule on the case. The decision will actually be made by an independent review panel.