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John Herdman: Toronto player "punched by the coach" of NYCFC

Here's everything we know about the allegation made by the Toronto FC head coach against New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing.

Toronto FC head coach John Herdman. Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This post was updated on Monday, May 13, after Toronto FC head coach John Herdman and New York Cit FC head coach Nick Cushing addressed the issues covered here in their respective press conferences.

Following the ugly on-field scuffles after New York City FC's road win over Toronto FC on Saturday night, Toronto head coach John Herdman made the allegation that one of his players was "punched by the coach" of New York City when the two teams played each other at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx on March 16. Herdman later clarified that the "coach" was NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing.

Here's everything we know about Herdman's allegation.

Herdman made the allegation that one of his players was "punched by the coach" of New York City back in March during Saturday night's postgame press conference. Herdman was speaking alongside Toronto captain Jonathan Osorio, and the head coach made the allegation when following up on a statement by Osorio that linked the on-field scuffles that night to "animosity from the last game," when the two teams confronted each other at halftime.

Osorio further alleged that the coach and several New York City players assaulted a Toronto player during that game in March. "So we're just letting them know we don't forget about that," Osorio said.

2. Herdman confirms the coach is Cushing

At the end of the clip above, Herdman was asked to clarify he was referring to New York City head coach Nick Cushing. The Toronto head coach confirmed it by replying, "That was the off-record report that came into the dressing room at halftime. A young 19-year-old said he got cornered and punched in the face."

The only 19-year-old player on the Toronto roster is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who was also the TFC goalscorer in the March 16 match at Yankee Stadium.

3. Cushing flatly denies all allegations

Because Cushing's postgame press conference on May 11 took place at the same time as Herdman's press conference, the reporters speaking with him couldn't ask the NYCFC head coach to respond to the allegations.

But soon after, John Molinaro of TFC Republic did speak with Cushing at BMO Stadium, and reported that the New York City coach "categorically denied he hit any TFC player at Yankee Stadium in March."

"I can honestly say as a head coach, I've done 348 games, I've never laid a finger on a player," Cushing reportedly told Molinaro.

Earlier today, Hudson River Blue spoke with a representative from NYCFC who said that Cushing denies all allegations, and never punched a player.

4. Will Cushing address the allegation?

Yes. According to a representative from NYCFC, Cushing will make a statement in the pre-game press conference ahead of Wednesday's match against Philadelphia Union. The press conference is scheduled for Monday, May 13, at 12:40 pm ET.

5. Will MLS look at the allegation?

That's unclear as of right now.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee will certainly issue rulings about the on-field post-game altercations, and will likely make their decisions available within the next few days. But it remains to be seen if they directly address Herdman's allegation.

6. Does Herdman have proof?

No, at least none that he shared with the press. Herdman and Osorio didn't see the alleged incident take place according to the statements they gave in the press conference, and instead repeated what they claim they were told. Neither mentioned eyewitness accounts.

Herdman said that the alleged incident took place in a part of Yankee Stadium where there are no cameras.

7. Did Toronto FC raise the issue with MLS in March?

Not that we're aware. The MLS Disciplinary Committee report from that matchday doesn't refer to the New York City vs Toronto game at all.

It's unclear if the club took action then. It's also unclear why Herdman decided to bring it up in a press conference eight weeks later.

8. What exactly went down on Saturday night?

To put it succinctly, the two teams mixed it up after the final whistle.

In this footage from the stands posted to X by Hudson Scott, you can see both sides lingering on the field and speaking with the referees. Confrontations between the two teams start to simmer around the 0:30 mark, then suddenly boil over.

Footage from the Apple TV broadcast gives a field-level view of the melee.

Here's another angle from Apple TV.

These clips show New York City defender Strahinja Tanasijević land what looks to be a headbutt on Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson. That kicks off the fisticuffs, as Johnson is enraged and pursues Tanasijević despite the deterrence efforts of members of his current and former teams. Johnson is able to grab hold of Tanasijević, and looks to land a headbutt of his own.

9. Did Herdman confront Cushing on the field?

Yes. If you look at the footage from the stands, you can see Herdman running through the center circle towards Cushing at 0:37.

Here it is from the Apple TV footage, where you can see Herdman run up to Cushing and knock into his shoulder with his chest. Cushing doesn't react, and the two are quickly separated.

10. What happened March 16?

At the time, this felt like a random and largely unnecessary bit of antics heading into halftime of a tightly contested 1-1 match. The events at halftime at Yankee Soccer Stadium on March 16 now look more significant, the inciting event that set the stage for the ugly post-match scenes we just watched unfold in Toronto.

The clip of this initial March escalation that got the widest circulation omits the very beginning of a testy, prolonged exchange between Nick Cushing and Toronto's Italian star Lorenzo Insigne.

The first clip in our above tweet is only six seconds, but in those seconds, you can see Cushing gesture towards Insigne, and you can also see Strahinja Tanasijević rush onto the pitch and approach Insigne, putting himself between the Toronto player and the NYCFC manager.

Cushing and Insigne appeared to continue to jaw at one another while leaving the field, with Cushing ultimately on the receiving end of a slight shove from Toronto midfielder Deybi Flores.

Cushing addressed it in the postgame press conference that night.

11. Herdman: "We're going to go and F Croatia"

Herdman is no stranger to managerial controversy.

While head coach of the Canada national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Herdman spoke after his team's spirited 1-0 loss to Belgium and said "We're going to go and F Croatia," his next opponent.

Herdman seemingly was speaking more out of enthusiasm for his Canadian team than contempt for Croatia, but the comment didn't go down well.

Writing for, Peter Galindo reported that "Less than 12 hours later, Herdman was confronted by a larger-than-usual group of Croatian media after training on Thursday to explain himself. The English tactician was fairly apologetic, although perhaps not as much as the Croatians would’ve wanted."

Herdman went on to say “I mean no disrespect to the Croatian team and Croatian people, but at the end of the day, it’s a mindset that Canada’s going to have if we’re going to have three points against one of the top teams in the world."

Canada scored in the second minute of that game, but went on to lose 4-1.

Update: Cushing categorically denied all accusations again in a press conference, and announced that New York City requested MLS to investigate the allegation. Herdman also held a press conference, and confirmed that Toronto requested and reviewed the available footage, and forwarded it to MLS.

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.