Club America manager Miguel Herrera accused Toronto police officers of hitting his players during a scuffle at halftime of America's 3-1 defeat to Toronto FC Tuesday in a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.
After speaking about his team's performance in the contest and saying he was frustrated by the poor pitch at BMO Field, Herrera said what really irritated him about the experience was the police officials making things worse instead of better. The manager alleged members of the Toronto Police Service hit goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin, center back Bruno Valdez and the team's fitness coach Giber Becerra.
"We have to take advantage on a much better field, we’ve got to play a lot better. Honestly, I’m willing to leave that behind but what I’m very annoyed about - and the CONCACAF people know it and I hope they report it - the police were hitting my players. And the CONCACAF officials saw it, so I want to see it reported. Because if they’re going to use the police to attack the players when you think they’re going to calm down the situation and calm us down and the CONCACAF people saw it, I hope the report comes out that the CONCACAF officials saw the police’s aggression toward America’s players.
"They hit Marchesin, they hit Bruno and Giber. I think if there’s scuffling we can calm ourselves down. That’s what the security is for, to calm things down. But the security, it didn’t intervene in this way. I saw the CONCACAF people there and I hope the report comes down. Because if not it means CONCACAF is going to hide what happened at halftime when they saw it. We hope the report comes out."
Herrera said there was minimal pushing and shoving between players on both teams, and the police "had no reason to get aggressive."
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney offered a different account, saying he saw the incident as well and didn't witness any assault.
"I was front and center, and I saw everything,” he said at his news conference. “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 [Herrera] — strongly. Just in defense of the Toronto Police I’m going to disagree with him strongly, because that’s not what happened. But the rest of it and how it started and all that kind of stuff, and what happened, will, I think, play itself out. I’m not going to get into that. We’ve seen that before and I’m not going to get into that."
Yet when asked to clarify if he was accusing the officers of assault, Herrera said, "Of course. Of course. Not one [player was hit], three. We’re annoyed. The police don’t need to be there assaulting the players, on the contrary they should be calming the people down. The CONCACAF official saw it."
Herrera insisted he wasn't trying to start controversy as a motivational tool for the second leg, which will take place April 10.
"No, no, the truth is it isn’t [trying to condition the match]," he said. "I think it’s a spectacular city. But I really wasn’t expecting the police in such a calm, beautiful and safe city to act in this way. To reiterate, it wasn’t just me, there were two people from CONCACAF outside the locker rooms. They saw it. So it’s not conditioning anything.
"They’re coming to Mexico, did their preseason in Mexico, we played a friendly against them in Mexico and they know that in Mexico these things don’t happen. There are moments where things heat up in a game and the police don’t get involved to hit anyone. Here either. And I’m not saying it’s every police officer, just the two or three there in the locker room area who instead of calming things down made it more heated. I was pushing my players into the locker room because I know if you hit a police officer, you go to jail."
When reached by phone Wednesday morning, a member of the Toronto Police Service communication staff said the department has not received a complaint from Herrera or Club America and would not comment on the incident unless a complaint is filed.
Law enforcement was far from Herrera's only frustration Tuesday, with the 50-year-old also taking issue with center referee Henry Bejarano and his crew.
"It started in the locker room. The referees came in with a bad attitude in the first place because the players were putting on colored tights and I think with a bit of common sense you could’ve let players who wanted to play with extra material to stop the cold a bit but because it was black they took it away," he said. "So when you see they’re acting like clowns, being annoying, the fourth official, he has to come in but he’s saying, ‘Hey number 20, come here,’ this starts to influence you that the referees didn’t come to call things evenly.
"I want a referee team that can come and call an important semifinal. That’s where their influence started from. I think when you see the Costa Ricans that aren’t in a good mood, that’s where the errors you could see on the field start when they come in with this power."