Toronto FC officially sign Italian fullback Domenico Criscito

From left, Genoa's Stefano Sturaro, Domenico Criscito, Toni Sanabria and Edoardo Goldaniga celebrate their side's 3-0 win at the end of the Serie A soccer match between Bologna and Genoa, at the Renato dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (Massimo Paolone/Lapresse via AP)

TORONTO — Toronto FC filled another hole Wednesday, signing veteran Italian defender Domenico (Mimmo) Criscito.

The 35-year-old former Genoa captain, out of contract after last season, was signed through 2023 using targeted allocation money. That allows MLS teams to sign elite players and earn some salary cap relief without conferring designated player status.

Criscito joins fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne, a former Napoli captain, in Toronto. And like Insigne, Criscito took months to finally land in Toronto.

“Mimmo is a versatile defender who is a very good passer and a smart player,” Bob Bradley, Toronto’s head coach and sporting director, said in a statement. “He can play as a left back or a centre back and should be an excellent role model for our young players.”

Also Wednesday, Toronto acquired US$50,000 in general allocation money from Columbus in exchange for the homegrown priority rights to Jacen Russell-Rowe. The 19-year-old forward, a product of the Toronto FC academy, leads the MLS Next Pro League with 11 goals in 11 games for Columbus’ reserve side Crew 2.

Like Insigne, Criscito is a native of Naples. But Genoa became his home — he met his wife and started a family there. Their children speak Italian, Russian and English.

TFC was left short at fullback this season after the departure of Brazil’s Auro and Canadian Richie Laryea and retirement of Justin Morrow.

Bradley repurposed young Canadians Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Luca Petrasso, Kosi Thompson and Jacob Shaffelburg at fullback or wingback. Petrasso, 22, and Thompson, 19, have been the preferred pairing of late.

All four have shown promise in the demanding role of fullback/wingback, especially in the offensive end. But defensively there have been growing pains.

Toronto (5-8-3) ranks 27th in the 28-team league in goals conceded, giving up 1.88 goals a game. Toronto fullbacks racing towards their own goal in a bid to get back in position has been a common sight this season.

TFC hopes Criscito, a six-foot 165-pounder, will help.

“Mimmo is a player who will add valuable veteran presence to our team,” Toronto president Bill Manning said. “He has played in a number of important games for his club and country in his career, has been a captain at Genoa, and we’re excited he will be joining our club.”

Criscito showed his resolve in May when he fired home an injury-time penalty to give Genoa a 2-1 win over Juventus. However, he could not save Genoa, a team that has gone through a string of managers in recent years, from relegation for the first time in 15 years.

Criscito is expected to feature at fullback for Toronto, which has used Mexican Carlos Salcedo, French-born DR Congo international Chris Mavinga, American Shane O’Neill and Canadian Lukas MacNaughton at centre back.

Criscito has represented Italy at youth and senior levels, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. He made his senior debut in 2009 and went on to make 26 appearances through 2018. He was a member of Italy’s 2010 World Cup team.

Criscito began his pro career with Genoa, debuting at 16 in Serie B in 2003. He joined Juventus in 2004, making nine appearances before returning on loan to Genoa. He moved to Russia in 2011 to play for Zenit Saint Petersburg, returning to Genoa in 2018.

Criscito made a combined 498 appearances over the last 15 years with Genoa and Zenit, scoring 50 goals in Serie A, Russian Premier League, UEFA Champions League and Europa League play.

In seven seasons with Zenit, Criscito won the Russian Premier Liga (2011-12 and 2014-15), Russian Cup (2015-16) and Russian Super Cup (2015-16). 

The Italian wore No. 4 with Zenit and Genoa, in his most recent stint. That number belongs to captain Michael Bradley in Toronto.

Russell-Rowe, a native of Brampton, Ont., has signed with the Columbus first team through 2024 with options for 2025 and 2026. He spent one year at the University of Maryland after leaving Toronto.

Toronto will receive additional allocation money should Russell-Rowe meet certain performance-based incentives and will also retain a sell-on percentage in the event of a future transfer to a team outside of MLS.

Columbus has ties to Toronto with president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko, vice-president (administration and operations) Jaime McMillan and assistant GM and Crew 2 GM Corey Wray all having worked for TFC.

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