May 26th, 2024

Accusations fly in wake of ugly player melee following Toronto FC’s 3-2 loss to NYCFC

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on May 11, 2024.

Toronto FC defender Sigurd Rosted (17) falls over New York City forward Malachi Jones (88) during first half MLS action in Toronto, Saturday, May 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Toronto FC saw its five-game winning streak end in ugly fashion Saturday in a 3-2 loss to New York City FC that saw seven yellow cards, one red and a frenzied post-game melee.

There was bad blood between the two teams dating back to New York’s 2-1 win on March 16 when there was an altercation in the tunnel at halftime at Yankee Stadium.

New York coach Nick Cushing had played down that incident when asked about it on the lead-up to Saturday’s match, saying: “There was nothing in it. It was two teams that are fighting for three points.”

Toronto coach John Herdman and captain Jonathan 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 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.”

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

Cushing 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 after Saturday’s game when apprised of the Toronto accusations.

Herdman, however, also pointed the finger at Cushing.

“You don’t want to see those scenes in football but it’s a passionate group,” Herdman said. “There was definitely some bad blood that spilled over from the first game that involved their head coach.”

Adding to the niggle, New York midfielder Keaton Parks was sent off in the 68th minute of the March game for a nasty challenge on Kobe Franklin that earned a straight red after video review.

Combine that bad blood with Toronto (6-5-1) mounting a furious comeback Saturday with an 89th-minute goal from substitute Raoul Petretta and its anger at referee Lukasz Szpala’s calculation of extra time and you had a powder-keg. The initial call was for seven minutes of extra time, which stretched to nine after several New York players needed treatment.

Toronto wanted more minutes.

An irate Federico Bernardeschi, who scored Toronto’s first goal and had already been cautioned in the first half, confronted the referee at the final whistle. He was shown a second yellow, meaning he will miss Wednesday’s game at Nashville.

And the number of confrontations snowballed.

Osorio said Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson, a former NYCFC captain, had been head-butted by a New York player in the melee. An irate Johnson was trying to get at New York defender Strahinja Tanasijević, as was Toronto forward Prince Owusu who went down and was swallowed up in a sea of bodies.

“Sean as any person would, you’re going to react,” said Osorio. “And that’s how it started. “¦ This is the second time now they’ve got physical with our players.”

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

Santi Rodriguez, Malachi Jones and Andres Perea scored as New York held on for the win Saturday.

For the 20-year-old Jones, a teammate of Toronto rookie Tyrese Spicer at Lipscomb University, it was his first MLS goal in his first start.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, returning to action after missing the last eight games in all competitions with a hamstring issue, came off the Toronto bench in the 76th minute to applause from the announced crowd of 26,925.

He almost scored with his first touch, off a Bernardeschi setup, but New York goalkeeper Matt Freese, who was terrific on the night, made the save.

New York (5-5-2) then scored the insurance goal with Perea knocking in a Hannes Wolf feed in the 78th minute to make it 3-1.

Rodriguez put New York ahead in the 23rd minute, sending Johnson the wrong way from the penalty spot after Matty Longstaff was called for handball in the box. It was the fifth goal of the season for the Uruguayan designated player.

Longstaff protested that the ball had gone off his chest but Szpala, after reviewing the play on the pitch-side monitor, disagreed.

New York doubled the lead in the 44th with the Toronto defence found lacking. Hannes Wolf drove past Deybi Flores and found Jones racing alone toward the goal with Bernardeschi trying to catch up. He couldn’t and Jones’ shot beat Johnson and bounced in off the post.

Bernardeschi pulled one back in the 55th minute, roofing a rebound after Freese made a spectacular save of a close-range Longstaff shot. It was the Italian’s fourth goal in his last three matches in all competitions.

Petretta’s goal was a highlight-reel volley in the 89th minute off a Longstaff cross.

Toronto centre back Kevin Long will also miss the Nashville game after being cautioned in the 53rd minute, triggering a ban for yellow card accumulation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.

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