Insigne and Bernardeschi bring Italian flavor to Toronto FC’s resounding victory
Federico Bernardeschi missed his first chance to score his first MLS goal but was not going to waste a second chance.
Making their long-awaited MLS debuts, Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne ensured the months of waiting and anticipation were worth it for Toronto FC in a resounding 4-0 win over Charlotte FC on Saturday night.
Already leading 1-0 after four minutes, Bernardeschi fired a corner from Michael Bradley’s header to put TFC ahead 2-0. A few minutes later, the former Juventus player scored his first MLS goal with a resounding strike past Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.
It was the first time since 2009 that a player had a goal and an assist on his MLS debut on a night that offered many firsts for Toronto. For Bernardeschi, the most important result was putting the club back in the win column.
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« Today for me it was important for the team to win, for the fans, for the confidence, for the future, » Bernardeschi said after the match. « For me, today starts a new season for the TFC. »
As the team left the pitch at half-time, fans rose to show their approval for a dominating first half where TFC scored four first-half goals for the first time in history of the club.
As TFC traveled to Vancouver for the Canadian Championship final on Tuesday, the team replaced Insigne and Bernardeschi for the second half in a game that ended well before the final whistle.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, Michael Bradley said the additions of Insigne and Bernardeschi would raise the level of play, but for it to happen as quickly as it has happened is an important development for Toronto.
“A very, very big night. You could feel it, you had a feeling over the past few days that this was going to be a special night, and it was in every way,” Bradley said after scoring a brace for only the second time with the TFC.
A 4-0 win over Charlotte FC raises hopes that the TFC can make an effort to reach the MLS Cup playoffs despite being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings heading into the game of Saturday.
With the clean sheet, TFC ended a 29-game MLS streak where they gave up at least one goal, a trend that currently ranks them fourth in the league in goals against.
They have a lot of work to do to get back in the game and head coach Bob Bradley insisted that it will take time to become a good football club.
« It’s not that often that there isn’t, but there have been a few games that are just struggles and we keep saying come on, » Bradley explained. “…the more you push the football forward, the more the guys start to be on the same page, it starts to go faster, that’s how you make a team. There are no shortcuts.
Not only did the additions of Insigne and Bernardeschi make a difference to the team’s play on the field, but the atmosphere at BMO Field was rejuvenated. A sold-out crowd of 29,067, one of the largest in years, made sure to soak up every moment.
As the starting line-up was announced the cheers grew louder for each player and then came the big ovation for the No.24 as fans waved flags for the debut. Badge because it had his famous heart gesture and his nickname « Il Magnifico » printed on it.
“It was a great atmosphere. I’m very happy with this debut, I didn’t expect it and I’m encouraged to celebrate with such a victory,” Insigne said after the game through an interpreter.
“It’s definitely different from what I’ve played in Europe. But there is like a very strong energy and it is very important. You have to be in shape to get a result, and that’s what counts.
The moment Insigne touched the ball for the first time was given a standing ovation by the fans and although he didn’t score in his first game, his presence was felt within 45 minutes of the game. The 31-year-old created five scoring chances and produced world-class play on Bradley’s second goal of the match which took the TFC lead to 4-0.
« I think the first half was great. We played a great game. And the road is still long and I like the way we played, although I didn’t score any goals, » explained Badge: « But I’m here for the team to do more of the kind of assists I did, and I’m really happy with the results. »
Bradley was thrilled to finally see the new additions to the team make their presence felt and thinks it will only get better with time.
As for how the crowd reacted, Bradley felt the impact it had on the performance and knew how important it was to reward the fans who had waited to see it all come together.
« Right from the start, strong, in it, I enjoyed the good football moments, » Bradley explained. « And again, bringing these guys onto the pitch was exciting for the team, but we also recognize how exciting it was for the fans and for the city. »
Insigne had his debut initially delayed by a calf injury sustained while back in Italy. He admitted to being tired after the game, but that was to be expected considering it was his first game since his last appearance for Napoli at the end of May.
His status for Tuesday’s championship game against the Vancouver Whitecaps will be determined based on his recovery and how Bradley approaches the game.
Insigne and Bernardeschi weren’t the only players to make their season debuts. Mark-Anthony Kaye plays his first match at BMO Field while Doneil Henry makes his first appearances since joining TFC.
The road won’t be any easier for TFC as they play their next three games, including two league games, on the road, including against New England and Nashville.
Toronto will have to wait until August 13 to see their club play at home, but hopefully the team will continue their efforts to qualify for the playoffs with their Italian stars at the forefront.