Jozy Altidore says a New York Red Bulls fan told him he doesn't "deserve to be in this country" and questioned his patriotism and religion during last week's MLS playoff game.
Altidore and his Toronto FC teammate Michael Bradley were the targets of extended periods of explicit chants at Red Bull Arena on Monday, leading the striker to call the fans of his former club "classless."
Defending his comments to the Toronto Sun, Altidore said one fan crossed the line by telling him to put his hand over his heart and sing along during the U.S. national anthem.
Altidore, raised as a Jehovah's Witness who abstains from saluting flags on religious grounds, has stood silently with his hands behind his back during the anthem throughout his career.
"My comment about Red Bulls fans being 'classless' was because of the stuff that had nothing to do with soccer," Altidore said. "My mother raised us as Jehovah's Witness, and there were comments being said that my beliefs have no place in this country. It's ridiculous.
"Coming off the field -- with Tosaint Ricketts and Raheem Edwards as my witness -- there's a [fan] standing a foot away from me telling me I have no idea what it's like to represent this country, that I didn't die for this country and I don't deserve to be in this country because I don't put my hand on my heart and that I don't sing [the Star-Spangled Banner]."
As leading figures on the United States national team that failed to qualify for the World Cup last month, Altidore and Bradley were also the target of some criticism in a game in Atlanta two weeks ago. Altidore, though, said he accepts the jeers until they become personal.
"I have no issue with the booing and you feeling that myself and Michael and others are responsible for not qualifying for the World Cup. You're right," Altidore said.
"There are many people that have different beliefs about politics about what the anthem means. It doesn't mean they care any less about the country. That's what I meant by 'classless.'
"It wasn't the 'f--- you, Jozy.' It wasn't the 'f--- you, Mike.' I have no problem with that. The booing me as a player, I have no issue. But when you start to attack people in different ways when it comes to religion or patriotism, that's what I meant by 'classless.'"
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said he wrote a letter to Major League Soccer about the issue and was waiting for a response.
"He's telling him what to do," Vanney said of the fan. "You don't tell people what to do. It's none of that guy's business. There's no rule that says you have to put your hand over your heart."