With Bernardeschi out, Insigne ignites much-needed Toronto FC win


Soccer is a funny sport sometimes.

On the weekend Toronto FC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley made a “coach’s decision” to drop star winger Federico Bernardeschi from the squad, it was TFC's other Italian star, Lorenzo Insigne, who stepped up to lead the Reds to a 2-1 victory over D.C. United at BMO Field Saturday night.

“It was a very important win this week,” Insigne said postgame via a club translator. “We needed the three points. We’re glad that we won. It was a very difficult week, a lot of things were said about the club and about us, but it was really important for us to stay together, and to work hard and to continue working hard.”

Sporting the captain’s armband, the former Napoli star registered two assists for the first time in his MLS career, assisting both of TFC’s markers – their first goals in over 400 minutes of action. Insigne first set up Deandre Kerr (who was inserted into the lineup in place of Bernardeschi) from a corner kick before capping off the evening with an elegant layoff to Kosi Thompson to double Toronto’s lead. The Reds then survived a late push in the form of an 87th-minute goal from United's Belgian striker Christian Benteke.

It was arguably the Italian’s most inspired performance in a Toronto FC shirt, as he led all players with four key passes and two big chances created.

“He was engaged in every moment. He really helped us get out of difficult situations, a real team player,” said Toronto midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. “Tonight, we’re very proud of Lorenzo. He’s a good player, and we hope to just keep getting the best out of him.”

Added Insigne: “It’s been very difficult these past couple of weeks… I didn’t expect MLS to be as difficult as it is, and I’m learning every day and trying to adapt to it. But like I said, I’m very serene here, and I’m very happy here, and I continue to want to be happy and to continue to learn and train with my teammates.”

The victory comes at a crucial time for Bradley's side.

Battling an injury crisis and mired with off-field drama – highlighted by Bernardeschi calling for a change at the club last weekend – Toronto have fallen short of expectations this season. The Reds had won just one of their last 10 league matches and were bottom of the Eastern Conference table heading into Matchday 15.

Adding salt to Toronto FC’s wounds was their brief Canadian Championship run, which was cut short by CF Montréal earlier this month, further compounded by a league loss to their Canadian Classique rivals a few days later.

But Saturday's victory, knocking off a surging D.C. side that'd won four out of their previous seven games, could very well be a step in the right direction towards turning their season around.

“Always feels good when you can get a win at home. We haven’t had that feeling in a long time, so I hope all the guys really cherish this moment,” said Kaye.

“This doesn’t necessarily change all the feelings right now, but it is definitely a positive that we can focus on, and like I said, hopefully build on for Wednesday vs. [Chicago Fire FC\] (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).”