Hearts in the Air: Lorenzo Insigne gets warm welcome from Toronto FC faithful

Toronto FC’s new signing Lorenzo Insigne is paraded before fans a PR event in Toronto, Friday, June 24, 2022. (Chris Young/CP)

TORONTO — Hundreds of pairs of hands came together to form hearts as Toronto FC fans sang and cheered for Lorenzo Insigne.

A visibly touched Insigne made the loving gesture right back.

Insigne was formally introduced to Toronto FC fans Friday night, a celebration nearly seven months in the making after the Italian international signed with the Major League Soccer club Jan. 8.

“Thank you everybody for coming,” said Insigne through a translator. “I just hope that during the game I can contribute and bring Toronto to victory.”

Insigne then closed out his brief appearance on stage by switching to English and shouting “all for one!” into the microphone, with fans cheering his use of Toronto FC’s motto.

His arrival may breathe hope into TFC’s season as Toronto sits 12th in MLS’s 14-team Eastern Conference with a 4-3-8 record.

The 31-year-old native of Naples, Italy, has 132 goals in 416 club appearances, mainly for Serie A club Napoli.

Insigne (pronounced In-SEEN-ya) signed a four-year contract with the Reds and enters MLS as its highest-paid player.

He overtakes Chicago’s Xherdan Shaqiri who currently tops the league’s salary list at US$8.153 million.

Insigne said Friday he was up for the challenge.

“(TFC president Bill Manning) did a great job. He really sold me on the project and the project is amazing,” said Insigne, who makes the heart gesture as a tribute to his wife.

“I know it’s going to be difficult because it’s the first time I’m going to be away from Napoli but for me and my family it’s going to be great.”

He’s expected to play his first game July 9, two days after the MLS secondary transfer window opens, at home against the San Jose Earthquakes.

TFC will have played 18 of its 34 regular-season games by then.

Help may be on the way for Insigne as veteran left back Domenico Criscito has reportedly agreed to sign with Toronto FC.

The 35-year-old defender has played for Genoa since 2018.

Hundreds waited for Insigne on a side street in downtown Toronto’s Little Italy for several hours.

A small stage was set up beside the popular Cafe Diplomatico restaurant, with a DJ pumping dance music as MCs Maria Papadakis and Rick Campanelli kept the crowd entertained with giveaways and competitions.

Kamil Kartel, a fan who took the stage to see how long he could shout “goal” like an Italian soccer broadcaster, said he loved to see Toronto FC fans gathered together.

“It’s great to see so many familiar faces around,” said Kartel, gesturing to the crowd. “I love when we have big signings like this. I love when the community comes together.”

About 20 members of Napoli Club Toronto were on hand, wearing Insigne jerseys and holding up scarves and banners emblazoned with the team’s logo.

As Insigne arrived on the scene with a police escort, members of the supporters’ club led Napoli chants to welcome Insigne.

“He’s kind of like our generation’s Diego Maradona,” said Luca Lombardi, referring to the co-winner of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century Award who also played for Napoli from 1984-1991.

“Maradona was a hero for all the Neapolitan people back when he was playing for them in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Now for us in the 2000s, 2010s, 2020s, Insigne is our hero. This means the most to us.”

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