0827 Insigne Bernardeschi

Yet again, Toronto FC’s Italian stars are proving to be the real deal.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi have been all over the scoresheet since making their Major League Soccer debuts in July, the latest example coming Saturday night when the duo propelled TFC to a 2-0 road win over Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium – keeping the Reds' Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes alive.

Insigne, who joined Toronto on a free transfer from Napoli, opened the scoring in the 49th minute by acrobatically converting Bernardeschi's corner kick. The former Juventus winger then stole the show with a beautiful curling strike of his own in the 66th minute, sealing all three points.

Asked postgame if he's surprised by how much his new Designated Players are contributing, Toronto FC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley suggested there was still more to come.

“No, they’re good players,” Bradley said. “And look, I still think they’re getting sharper and fitter by the day. They’re always capable of making big plays; that’s clear, we’ve seen that from both of them throughout their careers. But as they get sharper, as they can contribute more in other ways, then it makes our team better. So, not surprised, and those two continue to push and I think they both know that there’s more there for them.”

Goalkeeper Alex Bono doubled down on his manager’s comments, also showing some appreciation to Italian fullback Domenico Criscito, who joined Toronto on a free transfer from Genoa this summer and scored the MLS Week 26 AT&T Goal of the Week. During the 2021-22 Serie A season, all three players had important roles for their clubs.

“Nothing surprises me anymore with those guys,” Bono said. “I’ve seen it enough in training now to know that anything is possible when they get out on that field and it’s a delight to see the things they keep pulling out. Obviously, each of the three has done some pretty special things over the past month and a half, two months since they’ve been here. So, it’s a joy to share the field with them and it’s exciting to be part of it.”

As things currently stand, Toronto (10th in East, 33 pts) are three points out of a playoff spot with six matches remaining. Qualifying for the postseason is not out of the question, but time is slipping as Decision Day nears on Oct. 9.

Those ambitions could sit on the Italians' shoulders, though. Since Insigne and Bernardeschi made their debuts on July 23 against Charlotte FC, Toronto have picked up 14 points from seven MLS matches (4W-1L-2D). Over that span, Insigne (4g, 2a), Bernardeschi (5g, 3a), and Criscito (1g, 0a) have carried the load and then some.

With every match from here on out essentially a must-win for the club, health in the midfield will also be key to Toronto making a late postseason push. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye has missed the last six league matches with a lower-body injury since his trade arrival from Colorado, while fellow Canadian international Jonathan Osorio missed out on Saturday’s game due to an illness.

The good news for Toronto is both players appear to be on the verge of returning and their additions back into the lineup could be the extra boost they need to make a serious run the rest of the way.

TFC are back in action Wednesday with a marquee matchup, as they welcome former head coach Greg Vanney’s LA Galaxy to BMO Field (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN in Canada). Then on the weekend it's hosting red-hot CF Montréal, with their rivals unbeaten in eight games.

Will the Italians continue to carry TFC, perhaps sneaking into the playoffs?