TORONTO — The melee after the final whistle of Canada's 4-1 win over Panama on Wednesday was apparently triggered by a spitting incident.
A Canada Soccer spokesman confirmed Thursday that Canadian wingback Richie Laryea said a Panama player had spat at him in the dying minutes of the World Cup qualifying game at BMO Field.
Laryea, who did not speak to media after the match, stopped the game in the 89th minute while attempting to take a throw-in at centre field on the east side of the stadium. Moments earlier, Panama winger Edgar Barcenas had retrieved the ball and flipped it to Laryea before backing away.
Laryea suddenly dropped the ball and raised his hands in the air as fans in the seats behind him rose in anger.
Canadian captain Steven Vitoria immediately raced over to American referee Armando Villarreal to protest and then sought out the nearby assistant referee, while other Canadian player protested. Laryea started wagging a finger in Barcenas' face as players gathered while the Panama winger protested his innocence.
Play eventually continued without any sanctions.
The bad blood continued after the final whistle with Laryea still steaming. The Toronto FC player, who eventually had to be pulled away by teammates, could be heard on the TV broadcast asking a match official to review the video.
Canada was the antagonist earlier in the game, sparking a melee in the 45th minute when Doneil Henry, one of the Canadian substitutes, stayed his ground as the nearby Barcenas backed up to try and take a corner. Panama defender Eric Davis came over and tried to shift the kneeling Henry. prompting Canadian star Alphonso Davies and others to intervene.
The confrontation eventually prompted both benches to empty but no punishment was handed out.
"Look, this is two teams (whose) dreams are on the line. Their countries' hopes and dreams," Canada coach John Herdman said after the game when asked about the niggle between the sides. "And that's what we've instilled in this group.
"This is life or death for us. We will fight. We will fight right to the bitter end for this country … Our purpose is bigger and stronger than any other team in CONCACAF. We haven't been to a World Cup since 1986. These teams have. So when you're trying to take that away from us, we're getting in there — everyone, bench, players, subs, the whole group We're all in together."
"It's not nice to see and I don't condone what goes on," he added. "But at the same time our country needs us to fight. We cannot back down at any moment now. This group of boys are one. They'll rise as one and we'll fall as one. I think you've seen this new Canada. We're not going to be the peacekeepers, we're not going to let people walk over us. We're here to fight and fight for this country's dream of getting to (the 2022 World Cup in) Qatar. Whatever that takes."
Villarreal handed out five yellow cards on the night, four to Panama and one to Canada.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2021