Insigne, Bernardeschi bring Italian flavour in resounding Toronto FC victory

Toronto FC's Lorenzo Insigne celebrates after Michael Bradley scored his team's fourth goal against Charlotte FC during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday July 23, 2022. (Chris Young/CP)

Federico Bernardeschi missed his first chance to score his first MLS goal but wasn’t going to waste a second opportunity. 

Making their long-awaited MLS debuts, Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne ensured that the months of waiting and anticipation was well worth it for Toronto FC in a resounding 4-0 victory over Charlotte FC on Saturday night. 

Already leading 1-0 four minutes into the match, Bernardeschi would take a corner kick headed home by Michael Bradley to put TFC ahead 2-0. 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 would record a goal and an assist in his MLS debut in a night that provided a lot of firsts for Toronto. For Bernardeschi, the most important result was getting the club back in the win column. 

[brightcove videoID=6309939772112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Today for me, it was important that the team wins, for the fans, for the confidence, for the future,” Bernardeschi said after the game. “For me, today starts a new season for TFC.”

As the team walked off the field at halftime, fans rose to their feet to show their approval for a dominant first half where TFC scored four goals through the first half for the first time in club history.  

With TFC flying to Vancouver for the Canadian Championship Final on Tuesday, the team subbed Insigne and Bernardeschi off for the second half in a game that was over well before the final whistle was blown. 

Going into Saturday’s game Michael Bradley said that the additions of Insigne and Bernardeschi would raise the level of play but to see it happen as quickly as it did is an important development for Toronto. 

“A really, really big night. You could feel it, you got the sense over the last few days that it was going to shape up to be a special night, and it was in every way,” Bradley said after scoring a brace for just the second time with TFC. 

A 4-0 victory over Charlotte FC provides some hope that TFC can make a push to reach the MLS Cup playoffs despite sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings going into Saturday’s game. 

With the clean sheet, TFC ended a run of 29 straight MLS games where they gave up at least one goal, a trend that has them currently sitting fourth-worst in the league in goals allowed. 

They have a lot of work to do to get back into contention and head coach Bob Bradley made it a point to say that it will take some time to becoming a good football club. 

“It hasn’t been that often that there’s none but there have been a few games that are just struggles and we keep saying come on,” Bradley explained. “…the more that you get the football going, the more that guys start to be on the same page, it starts to go faster, that’s how you make a team. There’s no shortcuts.”

Not only did the additions of Insigne and Bernardeschi make a difference in the team’s play on the pitch but the atmosphere at BMO Field was rejuvenated. A sellout crowd of 29,067, one of the largest in years, made sure to soak in every moment. 

As the starting lineup was announced, the cheers grew louder and louder for each player and then came the big ovation for No. 24 as fans waved flags made for Insigne’s debut as it had his famed heart gesture and “Il Magnifico” nickname printed on. 

“It was a great atmosphere. I’m very happy about this debut, I didn’t expect it and I’m encouraged to celebrate with such a victory,” Insigne said after the game through a translator. 

“It’s certainly different from what I played in Europe. But there’s like a very strong energy and that’s very important. You need to be fit to get a result, and that is what matters.”

The moment Insigne touched the ball for the first time was met with an ovation from fans and while he didn’t score in his first match, his presence was felt in 45 minutes of play. The 31-year-old created five scoring chances and made a world class play on Bradley’s second goal of the match that extended TFC’s advantage to 4-0. 

“I think that the first half was great. We played a great game. And there’s still a long road ahead, and I like how we played, even if I didn’t score any goal,” Insigne explained. “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.”

Bradley was excited to finally see the team’s newest additions get to make their presence felt and believes it is only going to get better as time goes along. 

As for the way the crowd reacted, Bradley felt the impact it had on the performance and knew how important it was to reward fans who had waited to see it all come together. 

“Just right from the beginning, loud, into it, appreciated the moments of good football,” Bradley explained. “And again, getting those guys on the field was exciting from the team but we also absolutely recognize how exciting it was for the fans and for the city.”

Insigne had his debut initially delayed by a calf injury suffered while he was back in Italy. He admitted to being tired after the match but that was expected given this was his first game since his final appearance with Napoli in late 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 making their season debuts. Mark-Anthony Kaye play his first game back at BMO Field while Doneil Henry made his first appearances since rejoining TFC. 

The road won’t be getting any easier for TFC as they will play their next three matches, including two league games, on the road including fixtures against New England and Nashville. 

Toronto will have to wait until Aug. 13 to see their club play at home but hopefully, the team will be continuing its push to qualify for the playoffs with their Italian stars front and centre. 

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.