Italian stars show off their skills as Toronto FC hammer Charlotte FC


Toronto FC fans showed Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne lots of love on their MLS debut on Saturday. And the new Italian arrivals have paid them back in spades.

Bernardeschi scored a goal and set up another and Insigne netted an assist as Toronto celebrated their new Italian star power with a 4-0 loss to expansion Charlotte FC.

“It was pretty special, to be honest,” Toronto goaltender Alex Bono said.

“A very, very big night,” added captain Michael Bradley. “You could feel it coming in. 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, who has scored 14 goals in his previous 258 MLS games, scored twice and Jonathan Osorio added one. Mark-Anthony Kaye had two assists as TFC led 4-0 at halftime.

Insigne and Bernardeschi came out at the break, with an eye on their fitness and Tuesday’s Canadian Championship final in Vancouver. Job done and money well spent as TFC scored four goals in the first half of an MLS game for the first time in franchise history.

There was a celebratory atmosphere at BMO Field thanks to the anticipation of the debuts of the two Italians. Attendance was reported as a sell-out of 29,067, well above the 23,676 average for the previous 11 home games this season.

“I was very happy. I did not expect such a welcome from the fans in this first home game… I hope to return the love to the fans with my game on the pitch and also to the future,” Insigne said through an interpreter. .

“So wonderful. The fans are fantastic. Wow,” Bernardeschi added in English. “Today for me and for the team is a special day.”

It was as if someone had put the “On” button on Toronto’s season. But at 6-12-4, the road back to respectability is a long one. Toronto entered the weekend’s play 13th in the Eastern Conference at 14 teams, five spots and seven points behind Charlotte (8-12-2).

“A very good start,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley.

“I think I said a game that we weren’t in Barcelona yet, that’s for sure. We still aren’t,” he added, still realistic.

But there was plenty to celebrate that night. Toronto hadn’t posted a league shutout since a scoreless draw at Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021, conceding goals in 29 straight games.

The home team came out with renewed energy with the support of a raucous crowd. Toronto led 2-0 after 10 minutes thanks to goals from Osorio and Bradley.

Bernardeschi made it 3-0 in the 31st minute with an elegant left-footed strike from outside the penalty area that beat goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina en route to the corner of the goal. The former Juventus winger struck the air in jubilation and was swarmed by his new teammates.

According to Opta, Bernardeschi, 28, is the first player to register a goal and an assist before half-time in his first MLS appearance since Fredy Montero for Seattle in 2009. He also joined Alejandro Pozuelo, who was traded to make way for the Italian, as the only TFC player to score a goal and register an assist on his MLS debut.

Insigne acted as a provider in first-half stoppage time, deftly tossing the ball to a pressed Bradley after Osorio dispossessed a Charlotte player. Bradley, who also scored twice against Philadelphia in the 2019 season opener, got past a defender and gave the goaltender a 4-0 lead.

It was the first time Charlotte had conceded four goals in a league game.

The second half was less memorable without the two Italian wingers. Charlotte started to chain the passes and the contest was much more even.

But things went from bad to worse for the visitors in the 65th minute when captain Christian Fuchs was shown a red card for cynically dragging Jayden Nelson as the teenager ran past him with only the goalkeeper to beat. Charlotte was furious that Toronto defender Doneil Henry had not been sanctioned just beforehand for a hard tackle on Kamil Jozwiak in the Toronto penalty area.

In the ensuing uproar, referee Filip Dujic twice showed Charlotte’s bench a yellow card. Interim coach Christian Lattanzio had already been warned but remained on the touchline

Toronto finished with 10 men, Kaye having to leave the field injured and Bob Bradley without substitutions. Defender Shane O’Neill also had to retire at half-time after taking a knock.

Insigne, 31, started on the left side of Toronto’s attack with Bernardeschi on the right and Spain forward Jimenez in the middle.

Insigne, while finding his physical form, showed a touch of class with almost every possession, whether it was a small jab or a pureblood cross.

It was Caribbean Carnival night at BMO Field, but the flavor was definitely Italian. There was a crowd outside the players’ entrance with Insigne signing autographs as he entered – and a palpable buzz inside the lakeside venue.

Fans arrived inside to find Insigne flags, emblazoned with Il Magnifico and the Italian brand’s heartfelt goal celebration sign, on their seats. And the Italian received a warm welcome when he came out for the warm-up and even stronger when he was announced before kick-off.

Fans had more reason to cheer with a fourth-minute Toronto goal, with Osorio – back in the line-up after clearing concussion protocols – in the right place at the right time as Guzman Carujo’s attempt to clear the penalty box ricocheted off the Canadian midfielder in the back of the net. It was Osorio’s sixth of the season and his 55th for TFC in all competitions.

It also ended a 199-minute drought in Toronto. TFC had failed to score in seven of their previous 12 matches.

Two minutes later, Bernardeschi shoots just wide. The Italian played provider in the 10th minute, with Bradley swooping into his corner with a fine header from the near post for his second goal of the season. Both were headers, unlike his previous 13 career MLS scores.

A 29th-minute Jimenez goal was called offside.

Henry came on as a substitute early in the second half, starting his second stint with Toronto.

TFC edged Charlotte 15-11 on the night, but the visitors had a 5-4 advantage on shots on target. Thirteen of Toronto’s shots, all on target, came in the first half.

Insigne, the former Napoli captain, and Bernardeschi arrived during the league’s secondary transfer window, which opened on July 7. Both were out of contract, with Insigne signing a pre-contract with TFC in January.

Insigne’s debut was delayed by a calf problem as Bernardeschi did not arrive until July 15. Fellow Italian Domenico Criscito made his fourth appearance at left-back on Saturday in the 76th minute.

Insigne’s four-year contract makes him MSL’s highest-paid player. Xherdan Shaqiri of Chicago ranked first on the pay scale at US$8.15 million this season.

Toronto’s backline remains a work in progress with Kosi Tompson ($70,760) alongside Lukas MacNaughton ($86,100), Shane O’Neill ($358,000) and former captain Criscito. Genoa whose salary has yet to be disclosed by MLS players. Association.

The match marked the first meeting between Toronto and Charlotte.

Toronto had just suffered back-to-back road losses to Montreal (1-0) and Chicago (2-0) in the league. He was winless in five (0-4-1) and had recorded just two wins in his previous 14 outings (2-10-2).

Charlotte came within one playoff point thanks in large part to a strong home record (7-3-0). He struggled on the road at 1-9-2, with the only win coming on July 3 in Houston.

Charlotte has conceded two or more goals in nine of 12 road games, compared to just one in its 10 home games

Charlotte had just picked up a friendly win over Chelsea in England, winning in a penalty shootout after the match ended 1-1 in front of 52,673 at the Bank of America Stadium.

Toronto were without injured goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, midfielder Noble Okello and centre-back Chris Mavinga.

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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press


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