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Bad blood boils over between Toronto FC and NYCFC in ugly post-game melee

Prince Owusu Toronto FC Prince Owusu - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — One hears it all too often in sports. These teams really don't like each other.

On Saturday night, Toronto FC and New York City FC offered definitive proof of their bad blood in an ill-tempered affair that featured seven yellow cards, one red and an ugly post-game melee likely to trigger additional discipline.

First the soccer.

Trailing 2-0 at the half, Toronto mounted a comeback and cut the New York lead to 3-2 with a Raoul Petretta strike in the 89th minute. TFC pressed unsuccessfully for an equalizer during seven minutes of stoppage time that stretched to nine minutes because of NYCFC injuries/time wasting.

Irate that referee Lukasz Szpala had not added more minutes, Toronto wingback/winger Federico Bernardeschi rushed to confront him after the whistle and was shown a second yellow card. Bernardeschi was escorted off the field by TFC's security liaison, the Italian star leaving the field with a defiant F-bomb caught on camera.

There were more fireworks to come.

As New York coach Nick Cushing left the field, Toronto coach John Herdman approached at speed and bumped his counterpart, clearly with something to say. A member of the NYCFC staff pushed Herdman away but emotions continued to rise.

NYCFC's Strahinja Tanasijević began to draw attention from Toronto with goalkeeper Sean Johnson and forward Prince Owusu trying to get at the Serbian defender. Owusu eventually went down and was swallowed up by the rolling maul of humanity which numbered some 30 people by the time it reached the sideline with Johnson eventually grabbing Tanasijević in a bear hug.

Toronto captain Jonathan Osorio, Deybi Flores, Matty Longstaff and Kosi Thompson joined Owusu and Johnson in the middle of the melee.

As players and staff finally began to squeeze their way into the stadium tunnel, the temperature still ran high. Toronto assistant coach Jason deVos had to restrain Flores, who clearly wanted a piece of someone.

"Yeah, I mean you don't want to see those scenes in football but it's a passionate group and there was definitely some bad blood that spilled over from the first game that involved their head coach," said Herdman.

And now the backstory from Herdman and Osorio, who arrived together in a show of solidarity at the Toronto post-game media availability.

They said Saturday's ill will dates back to a March 16 altercation in the Yankee Stadium tunnel at halftime of New York's 2-1 win.

Cushing had played down that incident when asked about it prior to Saturday, saying: "There was nothing in it. It was two teams that are fighting for three points."

Herdman and Osorio had a much different recollection.

Osorio said Cushing had crossed the line with his talk in the tunnel in the March game. And then it got physical.

"Then when we hear that the coach and three of their players corner a 19-year-old (player) of ours, by himself. That's when there's a problem," Osorio said. "And I think that kind of carried over (to) this game, probably from their side as well … We were just letting them know that we didn't forget about that."

Osorio did not identify the 19-year-old but the age fits Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who scored in the seventh minute at Yankee Stadium. Herdman said the player in question "said he got cornered and punched in the face" and pointed the finger at Cushing.

Cushing emphatically denied hitting a Toronto player.

"I can honestly say as head coach — I've done 348 games — I've never ever laid a finger on a player," he said when apprised of the Toronto accusations.

Herdman said there were no repercussions from the March game because "the cameras weren't working in certain areas of the stadium," a comment that drew a snicker from his captain.

"No cameras, no evidence," said Herdman.

As for Saturday, Osorio said Johnson had been head-butted by a New York player in the melee.

"Sean as any person (would), you're going to react," said Osorio. "And that's how it starts. I understand maybe our emotions got the best of us a little bit and we were talking, but we weren't being physical or nothing. But this is the second time now they've gone physical now with our players.

"And that how it started and that's how it gets out of control."

Johnson, a 16-year veteran, is one of TFC's leaders and usually the picture of calm. But he was red-hot Saturday.

Cushing said he went on the field after the game to shake the referee's hand "and turned around and there was a big melee."

"Over the next day, two days, three days, we're going to try, of course, to see what happened," he added.

Santi Rodriguez, Malachi Jones and Andres Perea scored as New York (5-5-2) held on for its first away win of the season. Bernardeschi also scored for Toronto (6-5-1), which had won its previous five games in all competitions

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, returning from an eight-game injury absence, came off the Toronto bench in the 76th minute to applause from the announced crowd of 26,925.

Toronto centre back Kevin Long joins Bernardeschi in missing the Nashville game after picking up a caution that triggered a ban for yellow card accumulation.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2024