TORONTO — In a game that already featured many different storylines, the bad blood at the conclusion of Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg between Toronto FC and Santos Laguna is what will steal headlines leading up to the rematch.
In the final seconds, TFC defender Ashtone Morgan was apparently head-butted by Santos striker Darwin Quintero and dropped to the pitch. The linesman immediately ran onto the field as the final whistle blew and gave Quintero a straight red card. A dust-up ensued as both team’s benches cleared with players running onto the field to push and shove one another.
“I don’t know — I just turned around and got a little headbutt,” Morgan explained to reporters after the match. “It hurt, so I went down and the red card happened and there was a big scuffle at the end of it. That’s part of the game. Both of us were just trying to win the ball and it just happened.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto 1, Santos Laguna 1
The incident took place so quickly that there were conflicting reports as to what happened before and after Morgan was struck. Santos Laguna head coach Benjamín Galindo said he saw Toronto's Miguel Aceval throw a sucker punch at one of his players in the melee that ensued. But the defender denied the allegation and told reporters that he was simply playing peacemaker by helping to separate players.
Santos striker and US international Herculez Gomez insisted he saw Morgan throw the first punch and that Quintero simply retaliated.
“It’s a shame – you don’t want to see things like that," Gomez, who scored the game's opening goal, told MLSsoccer.com. "Classic – a guy takes a swing and the guy who reacts gets caught. I saw him strike him in the face, the guy who was on the ground. The guy who acted like he got hit. … It’s a shame that the other guy went down like he got shot.
“That’s pretty much it. After that both teams are defending their players.”
When told of Gomez’s comments, Morgan simply brushed off the accusation and pointed to his forehead as evidence of what happened.
“You can see it,” said Morgan, pointing to the bump on his forehead. “I turned around and we’re looking at each other, boom … it was face-to-face. … I was stunned by it and I went down. I was on the ground and then everybody came in. I had to get up and protect myself.”