Toronto FC entered the 2023 MLS season with increased expectations, but the club’s yet to meet them.
The Reds have taken just two of a possible nine points from their first three matches, failing to hold onto a lead in each of those outings. For Italian star Federico Bernardeschi, there’s an obvious frustration emerging amid this slow start.
“I’m disappointed because I feel bad for the result,” the 28-year-old former Juventus winger told reporters following the club’s 1-1 draw Saturday evening against Columbus Crew. “We expected more to the game and we need a win, and we lost a chance tonight and I’m very disappointed for this.
“I think we need to play [football] more for sure,” the Italian international added, “because in the second half we didn’t play. And for sure, we need to play more football, more right pass, on field and not long ball. We need to improve. We need to win the game because we need the win. We played three matches, and one loss and two ties and this not good for me, my mentality.”
Toronto have played the majority of their campaign without Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who's reportedly the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer history. Insigne was forced to exit the pitch just 34 minutes into the club’s season opener at D.C. United's Audi Field with a groin injury.
The club were “hopeful” and “optimistic” Insigne would be available for Saturday’s home opener at BMO Field against the Crew, but he wasn’t quite ready to make the matchday squad. He trained earlier in the week.
“You guys know he’s trained during the week, and we’ve tried to be very aware of how he felt every day, and yesterday there were still some moments where he felt something in the groin and we just didn’t want to take any chances,” head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley told reporters after the match.
“It’s a minor groin strain but there’s some plays yesterday where you can tell he’s feeling it still a little bit and that was still the case today so that’s how the decision was made.”
Insigne had just partaken in his first full preseason with TFC, looking to help Bradley’s side start their 2023 campaign on a high note after a 13th-place Eastern Conference finish in 2022.
Bradley said he’s once again “hopeful” that Insigne will be available next Saturday when Toronto host Inter Miami CF (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), but wasn’t making any promises.
“I’m hopeful for Lorenzo, but you’ve got to see what happens as he’s training and moving… There still seems to be a little pain in certain moments as he has to reach out for a ball, the same way that it happened on the play in D.C.,” Bradley said.
“We did a scan, I think there’s potentially another scan to make sure there’s nothing more. The initial scan was very minor, but he’s still feeling something with certain actions and we want to be very careful with that, so I don’t have a clear idea of what that one means.”
Insigne isn't the only TFC attacker to find himself sidelined in the early season, with strikers Ayo Akinola and Adama Diomande also missing time with hamstring injuries. Bradley is hopeful Akinola will be ready to go in time for next weekend, while Diomande is still a week or two away.
Starting fullback Raoul Petretta, who joined the Reds from Turkish top-flight club Kasımpaşa Spor Kulübü on a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract in January, was forced to exit Saturday’s match with an apparent injury, as well.
“All different, you know,” said Bradley. “We’ve got a bunch of other guys that I think are going in a really good way, but it is frustrating when you have some of these different soft-tissue injuries.”
The tension will only increase more and more in Toronto if the Reds can’t find a way to overcome their slow start to the year and pick up more points. They have a talented roster molded in Bradley’s vision, but it’s not fully coalescing yet.
“For sure we need three points [next] Saturday,” said Bernardeschi. “For me, my mentality, this is not what we expected from the start.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew | March 11, 2023