NYCFC boss Nick Cushing 'shocked and upset' by allegation from Toronto FC counterpart John Herdman

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New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing has told reporters that he is "shocked and upset" by John Herdman's allegation that he physically assaulted a Toronto FC player at Yankee Stadium in March. NYCFC has directly requested Major League Soccer to investigate the claim.

This is the latest development in a dramatic and unexpected saga that unfolded on Saturday night, revisiting events that occurred two months ago.

For those who may not be fully aware of what transpired since the final whistle of Toronto FC's 2-3 defeat to New York City, let's recap.

Following a heated altercation after the match at BMO Field, during which players and staff from both teams exchanged angry words and gestures, Herdman made a surprising public accusation about a previous encounter between the two sides on March 16 while speaking to reporters in the stadium's press room on Saturday night.

Herdman claimed that he had been informed by his players that a 19-year-old player (believed to be Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty based on process of elimination) had been physically confronted by Cushing at Yankee Stadium.

"The 19-year-old reported being punched by the coach in that stadium," Herdman said on Saturday.

During a Zoom session on Monday ahead of TFC's upcoming match against Nashville SC, Herdman was directly questioned by reporters including Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press, TFC Republic's John Molinaro, and Toronto FC writer James Grossi about the alleged incidents at Yankee Stadium on March 16.

"As a coach, I've got to believe my players and support and back my players," said Herdman. "There was no video evidence of any of that. 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 confirmed that Toronto FC had requested video footage from NYCFC upon their return home after the March 16 match.

"The league has reviewed the footage that is available of 'everything that happened in that tunnel,'" said Herdman. However, the alleged incident referenced by Herdman on Saturday night, involving an altercation between the unidentified 19-year-old player and Cushing, was not captured on camera. Herdman reiterated on Monday that cameras were either turned off or not placed correctly to capture the reported incident as relayed by his players.

"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," added 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 where that alleged incident happened... The cameras weren't operating or didn't cover certain areas of that."

Coincidentally, immediately after Herdman's Zoom session with the media, Nick Cushing also held a scheduled press briefing on Monday afternoon ahead of NYCFC's upcoming game against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.

Cushing had previously responded to Herdman's claims on Saturday by stating, "I can honestly say as a head coach, I've done 348 games, I've never ever laid a finger on a player."

On Monday, Cushing opened his Zoom call with a clear statement.

"The first I heard of the allegation made about myself two months ago was post the press conference of Toronto FC on Saturday evening," Cushing said. "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 I am shocked personally and upset by the allegation. We as a club have proactively asked MLS to investigate the incident on Saturday evening, and I will leave it with MLS and our legal team to carry out the investigation."

Herdman confirmed that neither he nor TFC had received communication from MLS as yet. Given the public nature of this allegation, the investigation is likely to be protracted, with details being played out in real-time. Major League Soccer's Disciplinary Committee will evaluate both the events of Saturday night by the lake and the incidents from two months ago in the Bronx. The league cannot overlook John Herdman's accusation and has been directly urged by NYC to conduct an investigation. Without video evidence and with Nick Cushing firmly denying the claim on two occasions, the course of action remains uncertain.