Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi show "special qualities" as Toronto FC rise


Toronto FC's Italian renaissance continued on Saturday night.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi each scored in the final 15 minutes, lifting Toronto to a 3-1 win over the Portland Timbers at BMO Field, just one week after both forwards also found the scoresheet in Toronto's 4-3 victory at Nashville SC. Of Toronto's last 10 goals, Insigne and Bernardeschi have been involved in eight, marking an instant impact for two of the highest-profile arrivals of the 2022 MLS season.

Insigne netted the decisive tally for a second straight week with his 79th-minute goal on Saturday, following up his sensational game-winning strike against Nashville with another clinical finish.

"Look, these guys bring some special qualities," Toronto head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley said postgame. "And then you put that into the middle of some of the other things we try to do as a team – but I thought Lorenzo's goal was a special goal, and [Federico] finishes the game."

Once languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, Toronto have climbed back within reach of the postseason on the strength of their remade starting lineup. After Saturday's win, they're just four points outside of the final Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot (12th place), in the middle of a crowded group vying to extend their season past Decision Day on Oct. 9.

Their rise is due, in large part, to an active Secondary Transfer Window. In addition to their two Italian DPs arriving from Napoli and Juventus, Toronto also brought in former Italian international left back Domenico Criscito and current Canadian internationals Mark-Anthony Kaye, Doneil Henry and Richie Laryea, the latter of whom Bradley was especially pleased with after the match.

"When you have good players, it doesn't take long for other good players to size them up," Bradley said of the returned right back. "Richie knows players here. Richie has the quality so that as soon as he gets here, guys like Lorenzo and Fede and the others can see what he's all about right away. Fede has talked about how easy it is to play with Richie and that he gives him the ball at the right time."

Toronto haven't just improved their results since their Italian stars came onboard. They've done it in an entertaining style, scoring 11 goals in their last four MLS matches.

Now it's crunch time, with only nine matches remaining and TFC's next three games coming against New England Revolution (Aug. 17), Inter Miami CF (Aug. 20) and Charlotte FC (Aug. 27), who are all within four points in the East's table. It'll be the toughest test yet of their newfound form, with center back Chris Mavinga noting those like Insigne and Bernardeschi "push us to play our best football."

"So now you can see with the Italians playing with us, we didn’t lose any 90-minute games," Mavinga said. "We just keep going. We know we are professionals, and we know Wednesday we need to be even better.

"I'm really confident because I know we have the team to make [playoffs]. If we don’t make it, it’s going to be disappointing because the team is very strong and we are a very good group and now you can see it. It's not easy but we have to stay professional and confident for the next games."