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When Jozy Altidore was at the nadir of his career in England – two years, one goal – Sunderland fans gave him a cruel nickname: Dozy Anti-Score.

The American international didn't malinger or complain, yet he was draped with a reputation as a slacker and a malcontent.

Still in his mid-20s, Altidore was turning into that thing every top athlete dreads becoming – a bust.

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His arrival in Toronto seemed like a mercy at the time. It was more a way of getting rid of Jermaine Defoe in a convenient swap than a high-profile hire in its own right. All people wanted Altidore to do was like being back in North America and score the odd goal.

He's scored more than a few since, but his full revitalization was not realized until Wednesday night. It took two years in Canada for Altidore to go from a very good Toronto FC player to a sort of Toronto FC legend.

He scored the only goal in the game and in the two-leg encounter. The 1-0 result sends Toronto to its second consecutive MLS final. That contest will be played at BMO Field on Dec. 9th against either last year's champions, the Seattle Sounders, or Houston Dynamo.

It was a very good goal, but not a great one. Played through by Sebastian Giovinco; a nice give-and-go between Altidore and Victor Vazquez; Altidore sprinting onto the end of it and curling the ball around and over the Crew goalkeeper.

What made the goal special was what had happened ten minutes before.

At the end of a nothing play in the Columbus goalmouth, Crew defender Harrison Afful lost his footing and rolled over the back of Altidore's ankle. The Toronto man went down hard. When he finally got back up, he couldn't run.

"I couldn't really move," Altidore said later.

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For a few minutes Altidore hobbled uselessly about the field. When someone made the mistake of giving the ball to him, he nearly fell over passing it because he could not put weight on his plant foot.

After a few minutes of that, Altidore came off briefly. A substitution seemed inevitable, if not exactly preferable. Without Altidore as target-man and defender-magnet up front, Toronto has looked a bit of a muddle during this post-season.

But after a brief treatment, Altidore returned.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney said he should let the bench know if he couldn't go on.

"He didn't let me know," Vanney said afterward.

Altidore didn't look a whole lot better upon his return, still limping noticeably and utterly immobile when the ball wasn't near him. Clearly, he'd saved himself for one great output of energy.

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His two best runs of the evening were the move on the goal, and a subsequent one to the corner flag to celebrate. Shortly thereafter, he was replaced.

"The only word I can use for that is 'heroic'," said Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono.

That may be taking it a bit far. It wasn't quite Bobby Baun on a broken leg in a Game 6. But as you may have noticed Toronto is a little short of heroic sporting moments since then. So this one will have to do.

That's the good-news story. Now the bad news.

As it turned out, the key match-up between Toronto and Columbus in the Eastern Conference finals wasn't any one player versus any other. Since Giovinco alone makes more money than the Columbus team combined, that wouldn't be a fair basis of comparison.

Instead, it was the staring contest between coaches – Vanney and his former USA teammate, Gregg Berhalter.

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Despite Toronto's narrow win, Berhalter got the better of that one. His meagre resources were carefully deployed to effectively thwart Toronto's ambition. The result was a blueprint for whichever opponent Toronto faces in ten days time - embrace the counter-attack.

It almost worked for Columbus. In the first half, Norwegian international Ola Kamara was able to sprint behind Toronto's defensive line repeatedly. Within a half-hour of the start, midfielder Michael Bradley had fallen so far back, he was somewhere between a central defender and a second goalkeeper.

A more muscular defensive approach thwarted the run-behind-them approach in the second half, but Toronto still looked fragile in its own end.

This was a very able defensive team during the regular season. It still isn't bad on paper – two goals allowed in four games – but it hasn't looked as good as it sounds. The bookend to that problem is Toronto's sudden offensive profligacy.

Giovinco returned after three weeks off and looked badly off the beat of the game. His usual effervescence was dulled to an occasional scamper across the face of goal. In fairness, until his hop-out-of-a-wheelchair-after-the-laying-on-of-hands act, so did Altidore.

The third straw that stirs Toronto's drink – Vazquez – was also out of rhythm. His most notable contribution to the game was taking a penalty that was perfect but for its height – three-feet off the ground, in the sweet spot for a diving 'keeper who's guessed right. Columbus's Zack Steffen had guessed right.

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But had Vazquez notched in that moment – and he was the guy who predicted the team would "score two or three goals for sure" – it would've robbed the game of Altidore's moment.

With one game remaining, there are two ways to look at Toronto FC's chances now.

Over the last month, they are not the regular-season juggernaut that topped the table. That previous team sprinted. This one gets there on its hands and knees.

The other point of view is that some teams find a way. They're just winners. The last guy who should score is the one who does.

"This city means a lot to me. When I came (to Toronto), I didn't know what to expect. I'm sure a lot of people didn't know what to expect from me. We were feeling each other out," Altidore said. "It's a beautiful love story because I fell in love with the city and I think the fans have fallen in love with me."

So it's a love story. That means one of two endings – off into the sunset, or dead in each other's arms. Despite the ankle, Altidore promised to be on the field when they write the final scene in ten days time.

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