Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said Jozy Altidore was "ambushed" by Red Bulls players on his way back to the locker room at halftime of Sunday's MLS playoff game at BMO Field.
Toronto won the home and away tie 2-2 on aggregate thanks to two away goals in the first leg in New Jersey, but the team will play at least its next match without Altidore as both he and Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan were handed red cards at halftime for violent conduct in the tunnel.
Altidore was given a yellow card for a first-half scuffle with Tyler Adams, in which Kljestan became embroiled and was also booked. Then as the two teams went down the tunnel at halftime, TV replays showed players come together on the way to their locker rooms.
According to Vanney, who did not see the events start-to-finish but was informed by those who did, Altidore was approached by Red Bulls players.
"We've lost [Altidore] as of now," Vanney said. "There's video footage I think of what happened in the tunnel. From my estimation and from what I've heard, Jozy basically got ambushed in the tunnel and we'll see where that goes.
"I just have witness accounts and we are working on the video of what happened, but Jozy was followed in, basically confronted and he turned around and from my understanding the next thing you know there were four, five or six Red Bulls people all rushing towards him at the same time and the rest we'll see."
Altidore did not speak to reporters after the game, but that night he attended the Toronto Raptors' NBA game and apologized to fans for the incident, while also briefly telling TSN his side of the story.
"It's disappointing," Altidore said. "First I've got to apologize to all the fans and all the people who came out to BMO, watching at home. He tried to come get me from behind, choked me, pushed me. He found out the hard way he shouldn't do something like that. Look, I apologize for my actions but I had to defend myself."
Kljestan told reporters after the game that he felt the blame fell on Altidore.
"At halftime, he shoved me into the wall," the New York captain said. "And so I have a clear conscience. I don't feel like I deserve a red card, so it's a pretty helpless feeling not to be able to play in the second half because of that."
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley said the Red Bulls should not have been anywhere near their opponents.
"I came in and saw the scuffle, there was 25 people involved," Bradley said. "So I can only go by what the guys in here say, and that's that Jozy was walking in towards our locker room, a few of their guys come after him.
"And the first question is what are they even doing here, because the way that this tunnel is set up, they shouldn't be anywhere close to the entrance to our locker room. They walk a few feet inside the tunnel and then turn left to go down there long hallway toward their locker room. We keep walking straight. So right away, it seems to me that there's a problem."
A league spokesperson said MLS would investigate the matter further.
Altidore, Kljestan and Bradley have been longtime teammates on the U.S. national team, though Kljestan was not in the squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup last month. Altidore and Bradley have been targeted by opposing fans since the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago, with Altidore saying fans who questioned his patriotism crossed the line.
Kljestan was also involved in a bit of controversy leading up to the game after criticizing his teammate Michael Amir Murillo for failing to cover the post on a Sebastian Giovinco free-kick goal in the first leg that proved to be the difference in the tie.
Sunday's chaotic match saw the Red Bulls nearly overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg when Daniel Royer's shot from distance deflected off Bradley Wright-Phillips and into the Toronto goal, meaning Jesse Marsch's team needed just one more goal to win the tie.
Vanney believed the chaos suited New York perfectly.
"I think that's perfectly OK for them," he said. "Antagonizing and getting the game to be a little chaotic and off tilt was OK for their side, so it is what it is. It's the officials job to try to keep things under control on the field and I think that was a little bit lacking.
"In terms of the tunnels you know we try to police them here at the stadium, but when multiple people come rushing in behind it's not as easy as it may sound.
"The game became a little bit about soccer and a lot about nonsense and that's irritating for spectators, that's irritating for coaches, players and it's irritating for just what our league is supposed to be about."
Toronto will next face Columbus Crew SC, which beat New York City FC 4-3 on aggregate later on Sunday, in the Eastern Conference final. The first leg will be at MAPFRE Stadium in Ohio on Tuesday, Nov. 21, after the international break.