And the fans loved what they saw in the first half.
In the early days, it was like someone turned on the Toronto season. But at 6-12-4, the road back to seriousness is long. Toronto started the weekend 13th in the 14-team Eastern Conference, five places and seven points behind Charlotte (8-12-2).
Toronto had not made a shutout in league play since a goalless draw at Colorado on September 25, 2021, and had conceded goals in 29 straight games.
The home team came out with renewed energy and the support of a vociferous crowd. Toronto led 2-0 after 10 minutes with goals from Osorio and Bradley.
Bernardeschi made it 3-0 with an elegant left-footed shot from outside the box in the 31st minute, which goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina beat on the way to the corner of the goal. The former Juventus winger thumped the air in cheers and was swarmed by his new team-mates.
According to Opta, Bernardeschi, 28, is the first player to score and assist before halftime in his first MLS appearance since Fredy Montero for Seattle in 2009.
Insigne played as a assist in first-half injury time, deftly flicking the ball to an oncoming Bradley after Osorio disowned a Charlotte player. Bradley, who also scored twice against Philadelphia in the 2019 season opener, steamed past a defender to give the keeper a 4-0 lead.
It was the first time Charlotte had conceded four goals in a league game.
The second half was less remarkable without the two Italian wingers. Charlotte started stringing passes together and the competition was much more even.
But things went from bad to worse for the visitors in the 65th minute when captain Christian Fuchs was shown the red card for cynically dragging Jayden Nelson to the ground as the teenager passed him and only had the keeper to beat. Charlotte was furious that Toronto defender Doneil Hendry had not been sanctioned immediately before for a tough tackle on Kamil Jozwiak in the Toronto box.
In the ensuing uproar, referee Filip Dujic twice showed Charlotte-Bank yellow cards. Caretaker coach Christian Lattanzio had already been cautioned but stayed on the sidelines
Toronto ended with 10 men, with Kaye leaving the field injured and Bob Bradley training with no substitutions.
The 31-year-old Insigne started on the left flank of Toronto’s attack with Bernardeschi on the right and Spain forward Jimenez in the middle.
Insigne, while still finding his fitness, displayed a touch of class with almost every possession, be it a small flick or a thoroughbred cross.
It was Caribbean Carnival night at BMO Field, but the flavor was definitely Italian. There was a crowd outside the players‘ entrance, and Insigne was signing autographs as he walked in – and a noticeable buzz around the lakeside venue.
Fans came in to find Insigne flags with Il Magnifico and the Italian’s trademark on their seats. And the Italian received a warm welcome when he came out to warm up and even louder when announced before kick-off.
Fans had more reason to celebrate with a fourth-minute Toronto goal when Osorio – back in the line-up after clarification of concussion protocols – was in the right place at the right time when Guzman Carujo’s attempt to clear a penalty area was defeated by the Canadian Midfielder rebounded into the back of the net. It was Osorio’s sixth win of the season and his 55th for TFC in all competitions.
It also ended a 199-minute goal drought in Toronto. TFC had not scored in seven of their previous 12 games.
Two minutes later, Bernardeschi shot just wide of the goal. The Italian played as an assist in the 10th minute, with Bradley firing in his corner with a nice header from the near post for his second goal of the season. Both were headed goals, in contrast to his previous 13 career MLS results.
A goal by Jimenez in the 29th minute was ruled out for offside.
Henry came into play early in the second half and started his second stint at Toronto.
Insigne, the former Napoi captain, and Bernardeschi arrived during the league’s second transfer window, which opened on July 7. Both were out of contract as Insigne signed a preliminary deal with TFC in January.
Insigne’s debut was delayed due to a calf problem, while Bernardeschi didn’t arrive until July 15. His Italian compatriot Domenico Criscito made his fourth appearance at left-back on Saturday and was substituted in the 76th minute.
Insigne’s four-year contract makes him the highest-paid player in MSL. Chicago’s Xherdan Shaqiri had ranked first on the pay scale this season with $8.15 million.
Toronto’s backline remains a work in progress, with Kosi Tompson ($70,760) alongside Lukas MacNaughton ($86,100), Shane O’Neill ($358,000) and Criscito, the former Genoa captain whose salary came from the MLS players still has to be disclosed, association takes over.
The game was the first meeting between Toronto and Charlotte.
Toronto suffered back-to-back away defeats to Montreal (0-1) and Chicago (0-2) in league play. It was winless in five games (0-4-1) and had only two wins (2-10-2) in its previous 14 games.
Charlotte came out of the playoffs with one point, largely thanks to a good home record (7-3-0). On the road it has battled 1-9-2, the only win coming July 3 in Houston.
Charlotte has conceded two or more goals in nine of their 12 away games, compared to just one in their ten home games
The team has already gone through one coach and parted ways with head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez’s team on May 31, 5-8-1.
Charlotte earned a friendly win over Chelsea of England and prevailed on penalties after the game ended 1-1 in front of a 52,673 at Bank of America Stadium.
The last league game was a 3-2 defeat at Inter Miami last Saturday, which saw Charlotte take a 2-0 lead through two goals from former whitecap Yordy Reyna, only to be tied in the 93rd minute by a winner from Emerson Rodriguez 2-3 to lose. That started a two-game winning streak.
Toronto were without injured goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, midfielder Noble Okello and central defender Chris Mavinga.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press