Skip to content

Crying Wolf: If Herdman's assault claim is false, he's gotta go

The post-match saga is unfolding like an episode of Law & Order, and the Toronto FC head coach must receive severe punishment for his accusation if the investigation finds nothing.

The post-NYCFC victory brawl has lead to drama and accusations worthy of a Dick Wolf-produced "Law & Order" episode

ANNOUNCER: "In Major League Soccer's justice system, the aggrieved are represented by two separate, but equally important teams — Toronto FC and New York City FC. These are their head coaches' stories..."


Hey, did you know New York City FC won a game last Saturday? It was the first road win of the season, and only the second road win under New York City head coach Nick Cushing since the start of the 2023 season. (Both in Canada, oddly.)

Do you know when the last NYCFC road win in the USA took place under Cushing? You'd have to go back to a 1-2 win in Atlanta on October 9, 2022 – 584 days ago from May 15. Héber (yes, THAT Héber) scored the winner.

If you glossed over the win, and NYCFC taking all six points from Toronto in this season's series, I don't blame you. The scoreline was lost in general sports coverage, as many in the media focused on the post-match scuffle on the field between New York City and Toronto players and coaches.


MLS issued the suspensions formally today. NYCFC's Strahinja Tanasijevic and TFC's Sean Johnson, Prince Owusu, Richie Laryea, all received a one-match bans. So did Toronto head coach John Herdman. They will serve their suspensions tonight.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee also noted that more suspensions may be coming as they continue "to assess the incident" and will "announce complete findings and sanctions at a later date."

Those "complete findings" will likely address Herdman's scurrilous accusation that Cushing allegedly assaulted "a young 19-year old" on Toronto's squad in the tunnels at halftime of the previous TFC-City match at Yankee Stadium on March 16. (The assumed victim is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who was the only 19-year-old player on TFC's roster that day.)


In his Monday presser, Cushing categorically denied any such assault ever took place, and said that New York City FC is asking the league to investigate Herdman's allegations.

But despite the lack of evidence from the March 16 match (the video footage is inconclusive, Herdman said), and no public acknowledgment of such an allegation against Cushing made after Toronto's loss in NYC two months ago, it's evident that this assault investigation needs to be done swiftly and transparently by the league to set things straight.

Herdman's gotta go if the investigation says "no"

Now, if MLS finds evidence that Cushing DID this act as accused, punching a Toronto player in a locker room tunnel, City will have no choice but to terminate him. Physical assault of a player should be a zero-tolerance matter – no exceptions – just as it would be for any other club employee at any level assaulting a colleague.

But, if there is nothing confirmed to have occurred in the league's investigation, Toronto head coach John Herdman should face no less than a 10-game suspension w/o pay for alleging such an assault, if not a rest-of-season ban. Toronto FC should also suffer a financial penalty – either a major fine or loss of GAM$/TAM$ for upcoming seasons.

It's hard to disagree with setting a severe disciplinary precedent here, after one head coach smears another team's leader with such a disgusting claim, putting a stain on Cushing's coaching career.

NYCFC announcer Glenn Crooks rightfully called Herdman’s claim “character assassination” on the recent episode of “The Sick Podcast: NYCFC Views.”

Legendary coach Bruce Arena saw his MLS career end in New England last September after alleged "insensitive and inappropriate remarks" were made, forcing his resignation from the club which left players and coaches alike in chaos, and put a dark mark on Arena’s Hall of Fame-worthy legacy.

It's very hard to argue that the accusation by Herdman that Cushing "punched" a 19-year-old Toronto player – which is a physical assault by a coach, not just inappropriate words or "remarks" – should not be punished equal to or greater than what Arena received.

While Herdman has suggested that he was just standing up for his player which made the Cushing punching claim, it's still a serious accusation to make without evidence or proof in hand. A long suspension by MLS and/or TFC should make it very clear to Herdman and others that they can't make these kinds of accusations lightly.

The list of coaches fired for assaulting players – either theirs, or their opponents – is a long one. My mind goes to Bobby Knight, Mike Rice, Mike Leach, and Woody Hayes at the college level. Type in "Coach fired for assaulting player" and there are numerous news reports in youth, high school, and college sports.

Herdman trying to lump Nick Cushing in with that wretched hive of coaching scum and villainy is despicable and shameful. After MLS completes its inquiry, the next move should be quick and severe by Toronto FC management.

And then cue this episode’s end credits...


The end credits roll for this Cushing-Herdman controversy.