Federico Bernardeschi: "Special" Toronto FC debuts start a new season

First impressions don’t get much better than what Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne provided Saturday night in Toronto FC’s 4-0 win over Charlotte FC.

That especially applies to Bernardeschi, who became the first player to record a goal and an assist before halftime of his first MLS appearance since Seattle Sounders FC striker Fredy Montero in 2009.

The 28-year-old Italian international, who most recently played for Serie A powerhouse side Juventus, also joined now-Inter Miami CF midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo as the second player in club history to score a goal and register an assist on his MLS debut.

Talk about pretty good company.

"It’s special for me," Bernardeschi said postgame. "It’s special because it’s the first, no? Today, for me, is important [because] the team wins. For the fans, for the confidence and for the future. For me, today starts a new season for TFC and well done."

Bernardeschi’s goal came in the 31st minute, a left-footed cannon that made it 3-0 after his inswinging corner kick was flicked home by Michael Bradley in the 10th minute. The winger, arriving on a free transfer, lined up on the right and opposite Insigne, his compatriot and a fellow new star in The 6ix.

Insigne joined the fun during first-half stoppage time when his backheel flick set up Bradley’s second goal, a marauding run through Charlotte’s backline that capped the captain’s brace. The former Napoli captain, alongside Bernardeschi, was removed at halftime, but had already cemented a resoundingly positive shift.

“I think that the first half was great; we played a great game,” said Insigne. “And there's still a long road ahead. I like how we played, even if I didn’t score any goal. But I'm here for the team to make more of the type of assists that I did, and I'm really happy with the results.”

The Designated Players debuted before 29,067 fans at BMO Field, creating a raucous atmosphere that was reminiscent of the heydays when TFC made three straight MLS Cups from 2016-19, winning in 2017. Anticipation and excitement, from players and supporters alike, turned into euphoria amid a trying year insofar.

Bernardeschi called the environment “incredible”, while Insigne said he “didn't expect” such a warm welcome. And while Toronto still face an uphill climb toward the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs at 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, the much-awaited occasion sent a reminder of what the Reds can be – and may become.

"That's the start of real football where you can do that more and more and more," said head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley. "So hopefully we can just keep building on that."