If Toronto FC has hopes of making it to the playoffs this season, they have to start making up some ground. Taking on Charlotte FC for the first time in franchise history, Toronto had a chance to claw back some point in the table, all the while introducing their two new superstars to the home fans, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.
When the dust settled at the end of the day, Toronto took home a convincing 4-0 victory, and moved within six points of a playoffs spot, as they chase FC Cincinnati. Despite both Insigne and Bernardeschi being subbed off ahead of the second half, Toronto waltzed to the finish, securing three major points.
“It was a really good start,” said head coach Bob Bradley. “Everyone was really excited and you could see in a short amount of time that there is still a good way that the players connect on the field. The more guys connect, the more ideas that are going fast, the better the football. We had moments where the football that I talk about all the time [was there], and that’s fun, that’s the start of real football.”
“It was an important night to win,” he continued. “It was an important night to play good football, and then to do it with a really good first half with some exciting goals, finish with a shutout, yeah, those things are all important.”
Although their new Italian stars were the attention-grabbing headlines ahead of the match, the spotlight was partially stolen by a very familiar face. Michael Bradley, who has spent the past nine seasons with Toronto FC, stepped up in a big way, scoring two goals, including a stunning defence-splitting effort for his second goal of the match.
“Michael [Bradley] has been really good this year,” said coach Bradley of his captain. “Now, when you put Michael [Bradley] into the middle of more good players, he’s not a player who does things on his own. He’s a player that knows how to play with people, he’s a player that knows how to bring people into the game in the right way. Bradley was very excited about tonight. He was excited about all the football and the training, when all of a sudden you get a few more of these guys on the field. I think he knows that’s the role he has.”
“It was a really big night,” said Michael Bradley. “You could feel it driving in, and 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. We’re so excited that Lorenzo [Insigne] and Federico [Bernardeschi] are here, and it hasn’t been an easy or straightforward year to this point.”
Michael Bradley didn’t want to soak up the spotlight from the rest of the team, however. His play was crucial for The Reds, but he says there’s more to it than any one person.
“It’s a lot of what we want to be as a team,” said Michael Bradley, talking about his second goal. “Going after the ball quickly, getting guys around the ball, winning it, and then playing forward quickly. More than my part, I look at it from the part that says it’s a real team goal.”
Despite not scoring a goal in his first 45 minutes with Toronto FC, Insigne was unquestionable the biggest story of the night. In the 31-year-old’s career, he has played in 374 games, all of which have come with Serie A side Napoli. He has scored 114 goals and added another 89 assists, and on January 8th, Insigne and Toronto FC officially came to an agreement on a four-year contract that will pay the Italian roughly $15 million each season.
“It was a great atmosphere, and I’m very happy about my debut,” said Insigne through an interpreter. “I didn’t expect it, but it was great to celebrate.”
“I didn’t expect such a welcome from the fans in this first game. And it was certainly a big emotion and I hope to return the love to the fans with my game on the field,” he continued. “I liked how I played, even though I didn’t score.”
Insigne earned high praise from his coach, Bob Bradley. Although he didn’t register his first goal in MLS, he did have one shot, although it didn’t find the target, and passing the ball, he was accurate on 100 percent of his attempts.
“Lorenzo [Insigne] is so sharp,” coach Bradley said. “He’s a smart guy. You’re managing his minutes, but he knows how to manage himself. He’s still coming back from injury and hasn’t trained that much, but that is still what you see when you are around him.”
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Unlike Insigne, Bernardeschi did score his first goal with Toronto FC, finishing a great strike into the bottom corner of the goal from just outside the box.
“It was so wonderful, the fans were fantastic,” said Bernardeschi of his first game at BMO Field in Toronto
“Today for me — and for the team — is a special day. We start the first game all together and we play good football. So I’m so very happy for (the win) and for my first goal and my first assist in MLS.”
Both Insigne and Bernardeschi were effective for The Reds on Saturday night, but Bob Bradley only felt comfortable playing each of them in the opening 45 minutes of the match.
“These guys are like a week into the preseason,” coach Bradley said. “A week into the preseason, you would never be putting guys on the field for more than 45 minutes.”
It’s a step in the right direction for The Reds, but they are still a way off from clinching a playoff spot, and they are going to need to continue to turn in performances like this one if they hope to get there.
“We would hardly pretend that after a couple of days with these guys, here we are,” coach Bradley said. “At halftime, I reminded them of that. There were a couple of moments where we were a little callous with the ball, and we have to deal with transition, I see it all, but there was a lot of positives.”
“We also understand that it’s just one game,” Michael Bradley said. “The recovery for Tuesday night starts now, and obviously the margin for us from here on out is not big, but we know that.”
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