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Toronto FC feeling hangover of post-game melee with NYCFC ahead of Nashville visit

Toronto FC will be feeling the hangover from Saturday night's ugly post-game melee with New York City FC when it takes the field at Geodis Park on Wednesday against Nashville SC.
On the heels of an emotion-filled loss to New York City FC and some very public finger-pointing that followed it, Toronto FC looks to get back on track when it visits Nashville SC on Wednesday. Toronto FC coach John Herdman thanks fans after the match against New York City FC in Toronto, Saturday, May 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Toronto FC will be feeling the hangover from Saturday night's ugly post-game melee with New York City FC when it takes the field at Geodis Park on Wednesday against Nashville SC.

And the pain is expected to mount once the MLS Disciplinary Committee releases its ruling.

Toronto forward Prince Owusu and NYCFC defender Strahinja Tanasijević were listed as suspended for their games Wednesday due to red cards for violent conduct when the league's regular pre-game disciplinary summary came out Tuesday evening.

Both players were front and centre in the post-game clash but their ejections were not immediately listed in the game summary, seemingly lost in the shuffle.

Italian star Federico Bernardeschi and veteran defender Kevin Long were already suspended after a game that saw bad blood between the teams spill over when Toronto's comeback fell short in a 3-2 loss at BMO Field.

Bernardeschi, the only Toronto player to start every league game this season, was sent off after confronting referee Lukasz Szpala at the final whistle and receiving a second yellow. Long was cautioned in the 53rd minute, earning a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

"Disappointing with Kev and Fede," said Toronto coach John Herdman. "I mean Fede's probably more disappointing, but there'll be two big holes to fill.

"But we were on rotation coming out of the amount of games we've played coming into Wednesday," he added. "We were looking at those rotations for some of those players that have been on big minutes given that we've got a derby (match against CF Montreal) on Saturday at home. Some players were due to be rested. Maybe not the whole game but were due definitely to take some time out of the game. So Fede and Longie were both on that rotation."

'Adding to TFC's difficulties was news late Tuesday that captain Jonathan Osorio is out with a thigh injury.

The weekend post-game clash led to a war of words. Herdman and Osorio said the ill-will stemmed back to a 2-1 loss at Yankee Stadium on March 16, alleging a 19-year-old Toronto player was punched in the face by NYCFC coach Nick Cushing at halftime in the stadium tunnel.

They did not identify the player but the age fits Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who opened the scoring in the March game.

Cushing has denied hitting anyone. Herdman, meanwhile, said nothing came of the alleged incident because the cameras in the area didn't capture it.

Saturday night's misbehaviour is under review by the league's disciplinary committee. 

The good news for Toronto is star attacker Lorenzo Insigne is expected to play more of a role after entering the NYCFC game in the 76th minute, his first action since being sidelined March 23 by a hamstring injury.

"We are looking to increase his minutes coming into this match," said Herdman. "Whether we decide to start or finish him is the decision we're looking at … He's in good shape."

Toronto (6-5-1) goes into mid-week play in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. A win and it can match its entire points total from last season when it finished last in the league at 4-20-10.

Wednesday's game is TFC's seventh in 25 days, with three more matches to come in what Herdman calls "May madness."

Nashville, which stands 13th in the East at 2-4-5, is coming off a 1-0 loss at Charlotte FC.

The club has struggled of late with just one win in its last seven outings (1-4-2). That was a 4-1 decision May 4 over visiting Montreal, which represented Nashville's first win since March 16.

Herdman is not taking the Tennessee team lightly, calling the mid-week meeting "a really tough match that they'll be up for."

"We know they're a massive threat when you look at the players, the quality that they have in (Anibal) Godoy, (Sam) Surridge, (Hany) Mukhtar, (Canadian Jacob) Shaffelburg. They're a handful at home.

"They're starting to get certain players back from injury — Shaq Moore, (Walker) Zimmerman. Similar to us I don't think they've been able to put (out) a consistent lineup. But you know the Nashville coach (Gary Smith) is experienced. He knows how to win football matches. He knows how to get through these tough periods."

Smith believes Nashville, which boasts a career home record of 31-13-28, is headed in the right direction.

"Long and short of it is I think the team's rounding into some better form and I'd like to think that we'll see that again Wednesday," Smith said.

The Nashville roster includes former TFC players Daniel Lovitz and Lukas MacNaughton (who is currently injured) in addition to Shaffelburg.

Randall Leal is also out for Nashville while Tyler Boyd, Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman are listed as questionable.

Toronto is missing the injured Marshall-Rutty, Richie Laryea, Shane O’Neill and Brandon Servania. Defender Nicksoen Gomis came out of the New York game with "a bump."

The NYCFC loss snapped a five-game win streak in all competitions.

"I think John's done a very good job with them," said Smith, referencing Herdman.

"Their results up until the weekend have been really decent," he added. "They've been on a nice run … So they're in a very competitive spot."

Wednesday's game is API Heritage and 90s Night in partnership with API Middle TN, an Asian and Pacific Islander organization working toward racial justice. California rockers Alien Ant Farm are performing a pre-match concert.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press