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New York City FC asks MLS to investigate assault allegation

New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing categorically denies that he punched any Toronto FC player or staff member.

New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing | Courtesy

Note: This post was updated Monday, May 13, at 4pm ET with additional information about the videos of the halftime incidents at Yankee Stadium on March 16, and the scope of the investigation New York City FC asked MLS to conduct.

Moments ago, New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing opened his pregame press conference ahead of Wednesday's match against Philadelphia Union by directly addressing the allegation raised by Toronto FC head coach John Herdman that Cushing punched a Toronto player at Yankee Stadium on March 16.

Cushing said:

“Firstly, I would like to say, the first I heard of the allegation made about myself two months ago, the incident two months ago, was post- the press conference of Toronto FC on Saturday evening. I categorically deny any involvement or any incident where I have punched or assaulted any Toronto FC player, or staff member. I would like to say that we as a club…I am shocked personally, upset by the allegation. We as a club have proactively asked MLS to investigate the incident Saturday, will leave it with MLS and our legal team to carry out investigation. I am sure that, due to the investigation, won’t be able to or will not be able to answer any questions on this.”

Major League Soccer has yet to issue a statement about the alleged incident on March 16 at Yankee Stadium, or about the on-field scuffles that followed Saturday's game at BMO field. New York City won both of those matches.

The statement follows a press conference Herdman held earlier today. In that press conference, Herdman answered questions about incidents that took place after Saturday's game, and about the March 16 game in which he alleges Cushing punched one of his players.

Herdman confirmed statements that he made in the postgame press conference on Saturday night, and reiterated that he made his allegation after he was told that Cushing punched an unnamed Toronto player who is assumed to be 19-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty.

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Herdman said that the alleged assault took place in the tunnel at halftime. Herdman also clarified that Toronto FC requested and received camera footage from the tunnel, and that the available footage was sent to MLS.

Herdman further confirmed that no assault was documented by the cameras. According to Herdman, the alleged assault either took place off-camera, or the camera that should have filmed the area in question wasn't working properly.

“There was no video evidence of any of that," Herdman said. "There was evidence of other things that were going on because we did get to see that video. But, again, the cameras were off or weren’t covering the actual location where that alleged incident happened. All I can do is just be honest with the information I’ve got to support my players and give the context around some of the things that were happening that night.”

Herdman also said that the footage they reviewed shows Cushing inciting his players and acting inappropriately. “I think if anyone gets to see that footage, you’ll see what was involved and how the coach might have been involved in that sort of incident,” said Herdman. “In terms of any footage of a 19-year-old being physically accosted, there was no footage of that. Apparently, again, the cameras weren’t working or didn’t cover that part of the facility."

We will update this post as new information becomes available.

Updated on Monday, May 13 at 4 pm ET

Hudson River Blue has learned that, back in March, New York City FC sent Major League Soccer and Toronto FC two videos of incidents that transpired at halftime outside the Yankee Stadium locker rooms on March 16.

Those videos were described by someone who'd viewed them as an extension of what happened on the pitch at the halftime whistle: There was shouting, pushing and shoving, and general chaos featuring members of both teams, but, crucially, no sign of any punches landed on 19-year-old Toronto FC player Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty.

According to a source close to NYCFC, the club heard nothing more from the league or from Toronto FC after submitting its footage of the tunnel incident in March.

The club had assumed that the league and Toronto, after viewing the videos, didn’t see anything that warranted further action or investigation.

That all changed with Herdman's post-match press conference and the raising of the highly damaging punching accusation, which the team and Nick Cushing continue to vehemently deny.

It's all led New York City to follow up with the league today, asking that MLS investigate all aspects of this full-blown North American soccer feud: The halftime events of March 16 in the Bronx, the on-field skirmish after the May 11 match in Toronto, and all the comments and allegations made by Toronto's head coach.

So the investigation, which Nick Cushing said today now also involves New York City FC's legal team, is expected to be all-encompassing.

The New York City FC source we spoke to said the team hopes that the league addresses the situation in some form, beyond the expected handing-down of suspensions and fines for players and staff involved in the on-field incidents following NYCFC's away victory.

That's because of the huge impact the allegations could have on Nick Cushing's coaching career and reputation, with the NYCFC manager described as "anxious" about the effect this all has on his reputation.