UPDATE, July 23 – The wait is over.
Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi are both in Toronto FC's starting lineup for their Saturday evening home match against Charlotte FC at BMO Field (7:30 pm ET | TSN in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US).
The Week 22 clash marks the MLS debut for the Italian internationals and Designated Players after joining the Reds this summer during the Secondary Transfer Window.
ORIGINAL, July 22 –The headlining Italians have arrived at Toronto FC, and they’re set to debut Saturday night when the Reds host Charlotte FC at BMO Field (7:30 pm ET | TSN in Canada; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US).
TFC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley confirmed Friday that Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi are both premiering against the expansion club, marking their first minutes in MLS since the Italian international forwards joined this summer.
How much that entails, and whether it’s off the bench or in the starting lineup, remains to be seen.
“Both are excited and everybody’s also excited to get them going,” Bradley said. “A couple days of training, we’ll have to figure out exactly what it means in terms of minutes and things like that. But both of them are ready to go.”
Insigne’s debut was supposed to come shortly after the Secondary Transfer Window opened July 7, but that got pushed back after a calf injury arose. Now, Bradley said there’s “no way he’s good for 90” minutes, but the 31-year-old former Napoli captain has been training and getting further acclimated.
Bernardeschi, 28, joins from Juventus – another perennial Serie A contender – and projects as featuring on Insigne’s opposite flank with striker Jesus Jimenez manning the center forward spot.
Both Designated Players arrived on free transfers with significant salaries, a year after helping the Azzuri to a Euro 2020 title victory over England on penalty kicks. They've each signed through 2026.
“I’m excited for the fans, I’m excited for the club,” Bradley said. “A lot of work has gone into this. Players in the team are excited. I think it shows that some of the things that have been worked on are going in a good direction."
Bernardeschi and Insigne are debuting just before Toronto travel across North America to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the 2022 Canadian Championship Final. That Tuesday match (July 26) will grant a Concacaf Champions League berth and Voyageurs Cup bragging rights.
With that looming, Toronto are cognizant of bringing along their new stars in a steady fashion, recognizing they’d normally be gearing up for the European season.
“In a perfect world, this would be a week into preseason for these two guys,” Bradley said. “But the way things were set up this year, they were coming in in the middle of the year, or a little past the middle of the year.
“Whenever you’re taking players in the middle of the season, how you integrate them into the team – in all ways, with ideas, with minutes – it’s all very, very important. These guys, it wouldn’t work well for them or for the team in the long haul if we go crazy with that stuff. We’re working as a staff with our performance people, with our medical people to make sure in all those ways we’re smart about it.”
There are also league considerations, of course, with Toronto currently 13th in the Eastern Conference standings. They're eight points beneath the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line with 13 regular-season games remaining (5W-12L-4D record; 19 points).
In a competitive match, Insigne last played for Napoli in late May. Bernardeschi last played June 1 in the Conmebol-UEFA Cup of Champions vs. Argentina.