After so much anticipation, the debuts of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi did not disappoint.
The Italian duo took to the field for the first time as Toronto FC players, doing more than their part to help the Reds take a resounding 4-0 first-half lead against Charlotte FC.
It was Bernardeschi’s corner that set up Michael Bradley to make it 2-0 after just 10 minutes, while the former Juventus man added a goal of his own shortly after, opening his MLS account with a driving effort from outside the box. He becomes the first player to score and assist in the first half of his MLS debut since Fredy Montero for the Seattle Sounders in 2009.
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And though he didn’t score, Insigne made his presence felt with five chances created, including a beautiful backheel assist for Bradley’s second of the match right at the end of the opening half.
With the job done and TFC’s Canadian Championship final against the Vancouver Whitecaps in mind, both players were withdrawn at half-time. But as first impressions go, they don’t come much better than this.
“That’s the start of real football where you can do that more and more and more,” said head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley. “So hopefully we can just keep building on that.”
Should Toronto continue this form and rise up into the MLS Cup Playoff spots – they remain 13th in the East despite this win after a poor start – many will look back at a regular-season split in two; pre-Italian and post-Italian.
Benardeschi himself believes this is where things get real for his new side.
“It’s special for me,” he said after Saturday’s win. “It’s special because it’s the first, no? Today, for me, is important [because] the team wins. For the fans, for the confidence, and for the future. For me, today starts a new season for TFC and well done.”
Toronto are still cut adrift from the Playoffs by six points but should they continue to play in this manner for their final 12 regular-season games, it’s impossible to see them finishing below the line for the second year running.
“I think that the first half was great; we played a great game,” said Insigne. “And there’s still a long road ahead. I like how we played, even if I didn’t score any goal. But I’m here for the team to make more of the type of assists that I did, and I’m really happy with the results.”
While the two new arrivals stole the headlines, a nod must also be given to their compatriot, Domenico Criscito. The 35-year-old now has four MLS appearances under his belt, but this was his finest, keeping his left flank completely shut down and torturing Charlotte’s right with some impressive passing.
Having all three out there at once, if only for 45 minutes, offered a taste of what’s to come.
“It was pretty fun to watch. You can see the class and experience that they bring,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono.
“From the moment that both of them touched the ball, the huge roar of the crowd; everyone was excited to see them out there, I was excited to see them out there. It doesn’t take a lot of research to see what they bring to our team, it doesn’t take a lot of research to see the special things that they’ve both done. And Mimmo [Domenico Criscito] as well, he brings a real touch of class for us too.
“To have all three of them out there today was amazing. They obviously gave us a boost.”