Rivalry Week

Lorenzo Insigne raises Canadian Classique stakes for Toronto FC: "A Clásico is everything"


Toronto FC started the season on a roll, with a draw and two victories kicking off the John Herdman era. The team got points against tough opponents, and that goal for Lorenzo Insigne? How could fans not get excited after seeing him fire in a goal from outside the box against Charlotte, which he celebrated by leaping into Herdman’s arms?

That enthusiasm was tempered a few weeks later when last year’s Wooden Spoon holders learned they’d be without Insigne because of a hamstring injury suffered in a March 23 win over Atlanta United.

Now, Insigne is back where he likes to be most: On the field making things happen in attack.

Having returned to the pitch last weekend and getting a half-hour of action in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Nashville SC, the Italian World Cup veteran is laser-focused on Saturday’s tilt with CF Montréal, part of MLS Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“I’m really happy because I really like to play. I’ve played two games so far, getting in physical condition and now I’m happy to be able to play against Montréal, to be able to help the team Saturday,” he told MLSSoccer.com this week.

While Insigne has so far made only late-game cameos, he’s already had to take on a big role for TFC. Shouting and shoving after a 3-2 loss to New York City FC at BMO Field on Saturday meant the club had a number of players disciplined, in addition to the members of the team already missing the midweek trip to Nashville because of injuries. Manager John Herdman, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and forward Prince Owusu were suspended in addition to Federico Bernardeschi serving his mandatory suspension for a red card during the match.

So, when Insigne came on just after the hour mark, players understandably looked to the veteran as not just their playmaker but their leader on the field.

“The Nashville game was really tough because a lot of our players were out,” he said. “It was really important not to lose the match, but like I said a lot of guys were out and it was really difficult. But now, the game against Nashville is in the past and we’re ready for the game against Montréal, which we know is really important.”

Must-win derby

Suffering consecutive losses after a three-game win streak definitely ratchets up the pressure ahead of the weekend in a rivalry game that Insigne says “is a very different match” than the ones he played in during more than a decade with Napoli. There, he said, you have a week full of everyone talking about the game, thinking about who will line up where and general build-up. Still, he’s not diminishing what it would mean for TFC to break a five-match losing streak in the Canadian Classique.

“It’s a very important game for the fans, for the city, for us as players,” Insigne said. “We want to give everything on the field and play really well to be able to win the game because it’s important. A Clásico is everything.”

Despite missing Insigne for six contests, Toronto sit sixth in the Eastern Conference through 13 matches with a 6W-6L-1D record (19 points). At this point last season, the Reds had just two wins compared to the six they have in 2024. The club weathered things with Insigne out of the lineup but will be thrilled to have the Designated Player back to something approaching full health after his red-hot start to the season.

In addition to the goal celebration in Charlotte, Herdman and Insigne also spoke about forming a tight bond in preseason - at one point the manager noted he was wearing cologne borrowed from his star. With Herdman putting his mark on TFC and Insigne enjoying working with the manager, is Insigne finding that joy he cherishes on the soccer field?

“Yes, yes. I’m really happy here,” Insigne answers before the question is even completed. “The new coach and the staff here are people who are prepared, who want to play good soccer. The team is good, and I’m really happy to be here. Right now, we’ve just got to keep going, win a lot of games to be able to put together a good season.”

TFC hope that starts against their biggest rival, snapping an unwanted streak and starting a new one like the one it started the year with. That should help keep Insigne happy and hungry for more in 2024.