Introductory press conferences are verbal occasions by nature, and Federico Bernardeschi handled that side of his official Toronto FC unveiling just fine on Monday afternoon. The Italian winger warmly praised his new city and club, and made the extra effort to speak in both English and his first language as he sat alongside head coach Bob Bradley and president Bill Manning.
But what really hyped up the crowd of TFC supporters at a sprawling sports bar in the Maple Leaf Square district were his actions, not his words.
Clad in a silky, fashion-forward all-white ensemble, a grinning Bernardeschi capped the usual jersey-pose photo opportunity by breaking into a dance to the rhythm of the fans’ songs, then asked the crowd to chant the club’s “All For One” slogan with him.
It's safe to say the Reds’ latest showpiece Designated Player signing seems excited to start his MLS adventure.
“I choose Toronto because this is a big project for the future,” said Bernardeschi in English. “And I see Toronto two months ago, in secret, with Bill, Bob, [agent/intermediary] Andrea [D’Amico], and I love Toronto – at one minute, [I wanted to] stay here. I love, I love so much.
“Here I have a family, a big, big family, the fans, the team and all people work[ing] in TFC. This is my choice for this.”
Leaving Serie A
That clandestine visit must have been some recruiting trip. It convinced the 28-year-old winger, a Juventus standout, Italian national team regular and reigning European champion with the Azzurri, to pass on Serie A opportunities in favor of TFC and MLS, just like his countryman Lorenzo Insigne, who also joined the Reds this window.
“I finished a path in Italy and with a lot of winning, a lot of victories and also some losses and delusions as well,” explained Bernardeschi, who joins the Reds on a free transfer through 2026 but will reportedly earn around $5 million per season. “MLS is very competitive, and it has a huge future. And I really believe in the future project of this team. I decided to come here for a new opportunity to win, and to win internationally.”
Manning looked pleased to have pulled off another head-turning acquisition for an organization that has made such splashes part of its identity.
“As good as he is a player, he's an incredible person. And again, raising the bar, as we're looking to do for our club,” he said of Bernardeschi. “Federico is a full Italian international, European champion, played for one of the biggest clubs in the world the last five seasons. At 28 years old to join Toronto FC and Major League Soccer, it's very rare, and so we are incredibly excited to see what he's going to do here in Toronto.
“If his history says anything – winning seven trophies with his last club – we're in for a bright future.”
With defender Domenico Criscito (from Genoa) also signing on this summer, the Reds now have a pronounced Italian flavor, one that takes former MVP Sebastian Giovinco’s legacy to a new level and – they hope – can connect with their city’s large expatriate communities while restoring their position in the MLS elite. It wasn’t their explicit plan to dive this fully into the Mediterranean, said Manning, so much as a happy sequence of events set off by their recruitment of Insigne (from Napoli) over the winter.
“There was kind of a line that was open,” said the veteran executive. “Obviously they’re Italian and from Italy, but world-class players, and that was the biggest factor, was players that could come in here, that wanted to be here. And the fact that we now have three Serie A players that can communicate together, that are all going to contribute to us in different ways, I think it’s a good thing.
“There'll be a connection there. They've played on the national team together, Lorenzo and Federico, and it started out as a concerted effort to sign Lorenzo and it just kind of bloomed into these other signings as well, Federico being one of them. Which, honestly back last October, November, many people thought it was a pipe dream. And we kept after it. We kept the lines of communication open, and he's sitting here right now.”
Though both players are short of full match fitness, Bradley held out hope that one or both could make their MLS debuts when TFC – who sit just one point from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings via a 1W-5L-1D slump since the June international break – host Charlotte FC at BMO Field on Saturday night (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ US; TSN in Canada).
“We hope so. Federico did a little bit of training today, we had a small group on the field. Now we see every day how he feels,” said Bradley, with 13 regular-season games remaining in Toronto's 2022 campaign. “Lorenzo is still training on the side, but we're hopeful that in the next day or two, he'll be joining the group. And then as we get toward the end of the week, we'll know.
"We want to get them both on the field as quickly as possible, but it has to be done in a smart way. So we're hoping, and we look forward to the next few days.”