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NYCFC's Cushing 'categorically' denies punching TFC player

Nick Cushing Nick Cushing - Getty Images

New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing vehemently denied an allegation from Toronto FC head coach John Herdman that he punched a TFC player earlier this season.

“I categorically deny any involvement or any incident where I have punched or assaulted any Toronto FC player or staff," Cushing said at a Monday press availability. "I am shocked, personally. I’m upset by the allegation.”

Herdman levied the accusation after Saturday's match at BMO Field in which the visiting NYCFC claimed a 3-2 victory. Tensions boiled over after the match with New York City defender Strahinja Tanasijević appearing to headbutt TFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who previously spent six seasons at NYCFC and is the club's all-time leader in appearances.

In his postgame remarks, Herdman, who confronted Cushing after the final whistle, alleged the punch occurred when the two teams met at Yankee Stadium in March.

"That was the off-record report that came into the dressing room at halftime from a 19-year-old who said he got cornered and punched in the face," Herdman told reporters of his team's 2-1 loss in The Bronx.

While Herdman didn't name the player in question, winger Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty is the only 19-year-old player on the Reds roster.

Toronto captain Jonathan Osorio expanded on his coach's remarks.

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

Cushing said the team has asked Major League Soccer to open an investigation into Saturday's incident.

Cushing is in his third season as head coach of NYCFC. Prior to joining the club, he spent eight seasons as manager of Manchester City Women, leading the team to a Women's Super League title in 2016.