Best in MLS? Toronto FC's Bernardeschi, Insigne hailed by Vancouver coach

The summer transfer window has seen some huge names enter MLS, ranging from LAFC forward Gareth Bale to Houston Dynamo FC midfielder Hector Herrera.

But Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Vanni Sartini has no doubt who the best newcomers are, showering praise on Toronto FC’s new attacking duo of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.

“I think that Insigne, Bernardeschi, when they will be at 100 percent condition, they are the best player and the second best player in the league by far,” Sartini said. “There’s no \[Carlos\] Vela, there’s no Bale, there’s no nothing. They’re the best players.”

The forwards have both joined Toronto as Designated Players, roughly a year removed from helping Italy win the Euro 2020 title over England. They were previously playing at some of Serie A’s biggest clubs, with Insigne captaining Napoli and Bernardeschi a key piece for Juventus.

Sartini, who’s from Italy, knows firsthand how dangerous they can be alongside fellow Italian newcomer Domenico Criscito, TFC’s new left back and a former Genoa captain. That surfaced in spades during last weekend’s 4-0, debut-driven win over expansion side Charlotte FC.

“I played, actually, against all of them when I was at Livorno,” Sartini said before hosting Toronto in the 2022 Canadian Championship final Tuesday. “Not a very good memory when we played Insigne. We played in Napoli, we were losing 4-0 at the end of the first half. So hopefully it’s going to be different this time.”

Insigne, 31, arrives on a free transfer, as does the 28-year-old Bernardeschi. They’re both reportedly earning some of the most lucrative salaries in MLS, with TFC’s ownership group historically willing to spend big on the roster’s top end.

And while money doesn’t always guarantee success in MLS’s salary-cap structure, Sartini said it can be a difference-maker. It also helps when Toronto can simultaneously bring in two veterans of Canada’s World Cup-bound group, trading for midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye from the Colorado Rapids and bringing back homegrown central defender Doneil Henry after he was waived by LAFC.

“The money challenge, that’s the challenge that they pose,” Sartini said. “The fact that they changed the team in the last two months, they have five new additions. Everyone talks about the three Italians, but they also signed two Canadian national team players. So it’s a team that’s completely different than before.”

Toronto’s reworked squad could reach another level before the Secondary Transfer Window ends, too, holding an open Designated Player spot after mutually agreeing to a contract termination with Mexican international center back Carlos Salcedo.

The Reds, six points back of the Eastern Conference’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line in 13th place, have 12 games to make up ground. After pursuing a 2023 Concacaf Champions League ticket at Vancouver, they return to league action Saturday when visiting the New England Revolution (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).