Toronto FC coach John Herdman is hoping being bad can lead to some good in the wake of last Saturday's post-game throwdown with New York City FC.

Herdman, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and injured fullback/wingback Richie Laryea received one-game bans in the league's first wave of disciplinary decisions after players and staff went at it following the final whistle of Toronto's 3-2 loss at BMO Field.

Herdman and captain Jonathan Osorio said later the bad blood stemmed from a 2-1 March loss at Yankee Stadium, alleging New York coach Nick Cushing had punched a young TFC player in the face in the stadium tunnel at halftime. Cushing denied the charge and the alleged incident has not triggered any sanctions, with Herdman acknowledging there was no video evidence.

Italian attacker Federico Bernardeschi was also suspended for Wednesday's 2-0 loss at Nashville after being shown a second yellow for confronting the referee after the final whistle Saturday. Forward Prince Owusu was also red-carded while defender Kevin Long received a one-game ban for yellow card accumulation.

A depleted Toronto lineup, with assistant coach Jason deVos running the sideline, held on for 80 minutes mid-week in Nashville before conceding two late goals.

Herdman, who watched Wednesday's game from his hotel room with a live "tactical" feed on his laptop, hopes the gain from Saturday's melee comes from his players showing they have each other's back.

"It's a really fine line," he said Friday. "Because of the reputation of the league, the reputation of the club. If that's fans (fighting) on the sideline, we'd be frowning upon it.

"For us, yeah we've got to raise our standard there but at the same time the players haven't come together like this in maybe four years."

Make that seven years.

In 2017, a flashpoint between Toronto's Jozy Altidore and New York captain Sacha Kljestan in the 34th minute of the Eastern Conference semifinal spilled into the BMO Field tunnel at halftime with both players being red-carded for violent conduct as the two sides went at it.

Herdman found himself in hot water on the weekend after confronting and bumping Cushing before being pushed away by a NYCFC staffer.

"You let yourself down in those emotional moments but a lot of what we do here is built on passion," the Toronto coach said. "With passion you need the discipline and sometimes the passion will spill over in that other side where it just comes out."

Herdman, while not condoning his or his team's actions, certainly understands the emotions in play in such moments.

"When you get that, you start to see people care about each other. There's just a deeper relationship there," he said. "It would have been easy for 90 per cent of the guys just to turn their backs and walk in the opposite direction … But they just care about each other.

"Internally it was a galvanizing moment."

On Friday, Laryea and New York City FC defender Strahinja Tanasijevic were both fined and handed an additional one-game suspension for their role in Saturday's confrontation following NYCFC's 3-2 win.

While Laryea is currently recovering from hamstring surgery, the league said he had served the first game of his two-match suspension Wednesday with the second to come Saturday. Laryea was seen taking part in the portion of training open to the media Friday but won't return to action until next weekend at the earliest, according to Herdman.

Asked how an injured player can serve a suspension, the league replied: "Any player listed as available on the club’s active roster can be considered for selection in a club’s official match roster. Medical availability is determined by the club, with the exception of those included on the season-ending injury list."

Given Herdman's comments on Laryea being still some time away from returning, the league explanation is less than satisfactory.  

Tanasijevic was fined for violent conduct while Laryea was sanctioned for violating the league's "mass confrontation policy."

Video of the incident Saturday showed Laryea going after Cushing in the melee following the final whistle.

Toronto (6-6-1) hosts CF Montreal (3-6-3) on Saturday.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.