If you support Toronto FC, Saturday night was when newfound optimism would come to fruition. Following an eventful offseason where general manager Bill Manning had one checkbox for incoming players: the experience of winning, the weekend was shaping up to be pretty good. The fixture in question was against D.C. United in the stateside capital. This is a fixture that TFC has struggled with in recent years, highlighted by a 7-1 humbling two years ago that got Chris Armas sacked. However, instead of festivities and dynamism down both wings, TFC fans endured ninety heart-palpitating minutes.
Haunted by their lack of defending skills within the first fifteen minutes again, Toronto was chasing for the whole match. Mateusz Klich, a designated player making his MLS debut, send a bolt barely past the fingertips of Sean Johnson into the net. An incredible arrival from a highly anticipated player. If that wasn’t the wake-up call for Bob Bradley’s side, nothing would be, and they did in fact make good on the motivation. Creeping up the pitch in spurts of potential greatness, Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne were the ones making the beautiful game even more beautiful. Berna sent one from quite a distance to the far post where Insigne was quite unlucky to not send it home. Instead, the ball was sent sky-high and the Neapolitan took a second to reset.
The dream of many who watch TFC is to have the two Italians together for a full season. This was the year. It was time to wreak havoc on MLS… that is until Insigne wreaked havoc on himself. In what seemed like a routine play – a defence-to-offence transition with Insigne heading downfield – a non-contact injury occurred. Insigne did stay down for a considerable amount of time but bounced back onto the field thirteen minutes before halftime. He wouldn’t be able to see out the first frame. With a scared look on his scrunched-up face, he headed to the bench. What is next for Il Magnifico, well, that is a question nobody can answer at the moment. Nevertheless, ‘troubling’ or ‘worrying’ is an understatement. A setback like this won’t only affect the club, but his mindset, which in turn will disturb TFC’s form even more, should he return to the pitch soon. Given that the knock was sustained without any oncoming pressure from a D.C. player, the chance of it derailing a significant portion of his season escalates. (CPL followers: think João Morelli’s wound from early 2022. It was along those same lines.)
If there was one positive to pick out for me, it would have to be Ayo Akinola’s performance coming on for Insigne. Akinola is still quite raw and a brutal injury from the 2021 Gold Cup hampered his ability, but sometimes the Canadian isn’t the most clinical. He embraced his spot on the wing in this match and did generate a few looks for himself and others. This could very well be the place he succeeds.
Toronto would end up fighting ‘til the end, and a good start to the second half was rewarded with Richie Laryea doing Richie Laryea things, which is charging down the field like an enraged bull and being a thorn in the side of opponents. Despite there not being a spat between him and an opposition player, Laryea drew a penalty which Bernardeschi eased home with one of the iciest and most audacious finishes you will ever see: slow, on the ground, and straight down the middle of the net.
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Bernardeschi, at this point the rallying cry for the Reds stemming from his continuously epic plays, sent a free kick nearly into the top corner, but it was stopped by Tyler Miller and then took a doink off the woodwork. Mark-Anthony Kaye was in the right place at the right time and frantically slotted the ball home, however not without a little bit of pain. His leg stretch was very wide and very quick, he, fortunately, looked fine in celebration. (Albeit while laying on the grass.)
D.C. was behind, but just as hungry as ever to make a statement. Chris Durkin was electric down the right wing, and he (plus the rest of the Screaming Eagles) began showing real character. D.C. was fully up for a battle, whereas TFC didn’t look like they had the same ambition. Sustained kicks at Bernardeschi did definitely aid D.C., as his momentum was pulled to a stop. Another DP, Christian Benteke, headed home a corner kick right at the death. This looked like it. Both squads would split points, and then eight minutes were added on. The four-time champions showed off their depth in the form of youngster Theodore Ku-DiPietro. Replacing the underwhelming Nigel Robertha. Ku-DiPietro’s calm finish netfront evaded the hands of Sean Johnson. Commencing a season where it was advertised that TFC’s struggles over the prior years would vanquish, they only popped up once more, for what feels like the umpteenth time at Audi Field.
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