Eastern Conference teams beware of Toronto FC.
That warning was issued on Extratime’s latest episode, as Toronto have taken 10 of 12 available points (3W-0L-1D) since Italian forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi entered the fold in July.
The Designated Players, who respectively arrived from Serie A sides Napoli and Juventus, have breathed life into the Reds’ once-improbable Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes.
"There's always egos when you deal with athletes, or anyone – there's always egos, these guys are Italian national team superstars," co-host Matt Doyle said. "But it looks like they have already sort of sublimated their ego into the whole team process, and that has to be a little bit terrifying if you're one of these teams trying to keep your head above water, trying to keep your spot ahead of Toronto FC in this stretch run."
Of course, there’s no guarantee Toronto turn their postseason aspirations into reality. They’re currently 12th in the East (8W-12L-5D) and four points off the pace set by Inter Miami CF for the seventh and final playoff spot, trying to dig out of a large early-season hole amid roster turnover.
The Reds’ Week 26 matches are a massive opportunity, as they’ll host the New England Revolution on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) before visiting Miami on Saturday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). East six-pointers are abound.
“I wouldn't want to see them in the playoffs,” co-host Andrew Wiebe said. “If I'm in the East, I'm hoping they drop points.”
It’s not just Bernardeschi and Insigne leading the way, either. Their gravitational pull is having a net-positive effect on those like Canadian national team stars Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea, the latter of whom has returned on loan from English Premier League side Nottingham Forest.
“What's really jumped out for Toronto is just how quickly these guys – the ability to function at a high level within the system, that then creates space for everyone else in the channels,” Doyle said. “It’s chances for Laryea on one side to overlap, Osorio to burst out of midfield, and Osorio's got, what, five goals in these four games? He's awesome at picking his spots like that, and you don't get to pick spots like that unless other guys are being the focal points."
Left back Domenico Criscito has been key too, as has fellow summertime signing Mark-Anthony Kaye in midfield when healthy. In perhaps underappreciated fashion, captain and former US men’s national team midfielder Michael Bradley is back dictating games as well.
“The moments he's having now, are the moments that for USMNT fans and those that watched him in Europe or with Toronto or wherever, it would make you fall in love with him,” Wiebe said. “I did. I was one of those people that just loved watching Michael Bradley play, loved watching him sort of dictate games, get on the ball, and use his ability with the ball at his foot as a passer to change things and to move the game around. He's doing that again now, except now he has Insigne and he has Bernardeschi."
Will it all coalesce with a remarkable great escape and playoff berth? They have nine games to do it in a parity-ripe league.
“They're four points out of the playoffs,” Wiebe said. “There's plenty of time for them to rise above that playoff line."
For more Extratime analysis, check out their latest episode here.