What is it about that red-tinted tunnel from the locker rooms to the field at BMO Field?
Almost exactly five months after Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls scuffled in the tunnel at halftime of their Eastern Conference Semifinal clash, another “Brouhaha at BMO” erupted on Tuesday night in similar circumstances, this time between TFC and Club América, at the midpoint of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal first-leg clash.
Broadcast cameras caught only fleeting views of what might have unfolded between the two teams as they headed for their locker rooms at the conclusion of the first half, which ended with a bang as Jozy Altidore scored to restore the home side's lead. And postgame remarks added up to a “he said, he said” situation.
“Multiple América players were involved in a brawl and the police hit them – including [Agustin] Marchesin, Bruno [Valdez] and [fitness coach Giber] Becerra,” contended América’s expressive head coach Miguel “Piojo” Herrera via a translator after TFC’s 3-1 win. “In my opinion, if the police are going to be in the tunnel area it should be to separate players, not to hit them. A Concacaf staffer was present there and saw everything so I hope they report it.”
Asked to confirm that he was accusing the Toronto police of assault, Herrera affirmed his claim, another head-turning moment from an outspoken postgame press conference in which he also criticized the game’s Costa Rican refereeing crew:
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney offered a different version of events.
“I was front and center, and I saw everything,” he said. “I’m not really going to digress into ‘he said, she said.’ All of that, I think, will play itself out here in the next couple of days. I would disagree with him [Herrera], strongly. Just in defense of the Toronto police, I’m going to disagree with him strongly, because that’s not what happened.”
Vanney said the scuffle – which he alleged included an América assistant coach delivering an elbow to Jonathan Osorio’s face – erupted from the Mexican visitors’ anger at Sebastian Giovinco for what they perceived as his embellishment to draw the penalty kick that gave Toronto an early lead.
“One of their coaches took exception to, I think, the PK, was having a go at Sebastian, and Sebastian kept walking,” said Vanney, “and Johnny [Osorio] stepped in between the assistant coach and Sebastian. I told the coach and the head coach that his coach shouldn’t be talking to our players, he needs to keep moving. And the next thing was an elbow from said coach – [the] assistant coach who was talking – into Johnny’s nose. And if you want to see Johnny’s nose, you can take a picture of it if you want. And then it escalated from there.”
It sets the stage for more drama next Tuesday, when TFC visit América for the second leg at Estadio Azteca, a match that will be overseen by Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov as part of a ref exchange initiative between Concacaf and the Asian Football Confederation.
*Additional reporting contributed by James Grossi