Italian stars show off their skills as Toronto FC hammer Charlotte FC

And the fans loved what they saw in the first half.

Whereas at first it felt like someone had flipped the ‘On’ switch on Toronto’s season. But at 6-12-4, the road back to respectability is a long one. Toronto entered the weekend’s play 13th in the Eastern Conference with 14 teams, five spots and seven points behind Charlotte (8-12-2).

Toronto hadn’t posted a league shutout since a scoreless draw at Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021, conceding goals in 29 straight games.

The home team came out with renewed energy with the support of a raucous crowd. Toronto led 2-0 after 10 minutes thanks to goals from Osorio and Bradley.

Bernardeschi made it 3-0 in the 31st minute with an elegant left-footed strike from outside the penalty area that beat goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina en route to the corner of the goal. The former Juventus winger struck the air in jubilation and was swarmed by his new teammates.

Bernardeschi, 28, is the first player to register a goal and an assist before halftime in his first MLS appearance since Fredy Montero for Seattle in 2009, according to Opta.

Insigne played provider in first-half stoppage time, deftly tossing the ball to a pressed Bradley after Osorio dispossessed a Charlotte player. Bradley, who also scored twice against Philadelphia in the 2019 season opener, got past a defender and gave the goaltender a 4-0 lead.

It was the first time Charlotte had conceded four goals in a league game.

The second half was less memorable without the two Italian wingers. Charlotte started to chain the passes and the contest was much more even.

But things went from bad to worse for the visitors in the 65th minute when captain Christian Fuchs was shown a red card for cynically dragging Jayden Nelson as the teenager ran past him with only the goalkeeper to beat. Charlotte was furious that Toronto defender Doneil Hendry had not been penalized just beforehand for a hard tackle on Kamil Jozwiak in the Toronto penalty area.

In the ensuing uproar, referee Filip Dujic twice showed Charlotte’s bench a yellow card. Interim coach Christian Lattanzio had already been warned but remained on the touchline

Toronto finished with 10 men, with Kaye having to leave the field injured and coach Bob Bradley without substitutions.

Insigne, 31, started on the left side of Toronto’s attack with Bernardeschi on the right and Spain forward Jimenez in the middle.

Insigne, while finding his physical form, showed a touch of class with almost every possession, whether it was a small jab or a pureblood cross.

It was Caribbean Carnival night at BMO Field, but the flavor was definitely Italian. There was a crowd outside the players’ entrance with Insigne signing autographs as he entered – and a palpable buzz inside the lakeside venue.

Fans arrived inside to find Insigne flags, emblazoned with Il Magnifico and the Italian brand’s heartfelt goal celebration sign, on their seats. And the Italian received a warm welcome when he came out for the warm-up and even stronger when he was announced before kick-off.

Fans had more reason to cheer with a fourth-minute Toronto goal, with Osorio – back in the line-up after clearing concussion protocols – in the right place at the right time as Guzman Carujo’s attempt to clear the penalty box ricocheted off the Canadian midfielder in the back of the net. It was Osorio’s sixth of the season and his 55th for TFC in all competitions.

It also ended a 199-minute drought in Toronto. TFC had failed to score in seven of their previous 12 matches.

Two minutes later, Bernardeschi shoots just wide. The Italian played provider in the 10th minute, with Bradley brushing his corner with a fine header from the near post for his second goal of the season. Both were headers, unlike his previous 13 career MLS scores.

A goal from Jimenez in the 29th minute was called offside.

Henry came on as a substitute early in the second half, starting his second stint with Toronto.

Insigne, the former Napoi captain, and Bernardeschi arrived during the league’s secondary transfer window, which opened on July 7. Both were out of contract, with Insigne signing a pre-contract with TFC in January.

Insigne’s debut was delayed by a calf problem as Bernardeschi did not arrive until July 15. Fellow Italian Domenico Criscito made his fourth appearance at left-back on Saturday in the 76th minute.

Insigne’s four-year contract makes him MSL’s highest-paid player. Xherdan Shaqiri of Chicago ranked first on the pay scale at US$8.15 million this season.

Toronto’s backline remains a work in progress with Kosi Tompson ($70,760) alongside Lukas MacNaughton ($86,100), Shane O’Neill ($358,000) and former captain Criscito. Genoa whose salary has yet to be disclosed by MLS players. Association.

The match marked the first meeting between Toronto and Charlotte.

Toronto had just suffered back-to-back road losses to Montreal (1-0) and Chicago (2-0) in the league. He was winless in five (0-4-1) and had recorded just two wins in his previous 14 outings (2-10-2).

Charlotte came within one playoff point thanks in large part to a strong home record (7-3-0). He struggled on the road at 1-9-2, with the only win coming on July 3 in Houston.

Charlotte has conceded two or more goals in nine of 12 road games, compared to just one in its 10 home games

The team has already gone through a managerial run, parting ways with head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez on May 31 with the team at 5-8-1.

Charlotte had just picked up a friendly win over Chelsea in England, winning in a penalty shootout after the match ended 1-1 in front of 52,673 at the Bank of America Stadium.

Their last league outing was a 3-2 loss last Saturday at Inter Miami which saw Charlotte go up 2-0 on a pair of goals from former Whitecap Yordy Reyna, only to lose 3-2 to a winner at the 93rd minute by Emerson Rodriguez. This ended a two-game winning streak.

Toronto were without injured goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, midfielder Noble Okello and centre-back Chris Mavinga.

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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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