By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (July 1, 2022) US Soccer Players – Toronto FC certainly knows how to go big. In retrospect, it’s fitting that Major League Soccer’s first Canadian franchise entered the league upon the arrival of the Designated Player rule. Though TFC wasn’t the first club to leverage the new freer spending rules, the history of Toronto’s success on the field can be connected directly to DP spending.
It was Designated Players that forever changed expectations for the club ahead of the 2016 season. That’s when they signed Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. Those players weren’t the first of the club’s forays into big-name acquisitions, but they proved to be the triumvirate TFC needed to go from league laughingstock to MLS Cup champion in short order.
By 2017, Toronto was fielding one of the greatest teams in MLS history. Since that jump into the big time, TFC’s owners have shown a consistent commitment to putting money down on elite talent to make the team a winner. While that hasn’t meant consistently competing in the Eastern Conference, there’s no doubting the ambition in Ontario.
The latest example of that commitment is the signing of Italian striker Lorenzo Insigne. TFC officially introduced the Azzurri international on Tuesday ahead of his highly anticipated MLS debut next week. According to the club, it’s not just another major acquisition.
“The minute we signed Lorenzo our profile was raised,” Toronto FC president Bill Manning said. “We’re seeing interest in our club from abroad in some ways like we’ve never seen it before. We’ve had a number of good players sign with this club but no one of this magnitude. We have a lot of ambition at our club and we’re really looking over these next four or five years for Lorenzo to be a foundational piece.”
Accoridng to reports, what Toronto is spending is massive by MLS standards. Per those reports, the 31-year-old will make $15 million per season for the next four years, more than doubling the highest salary ever paid by any MLS team. Toronto FC obliterated the accepted scale for big-name signings.
Manning sees Insigne as much more than another in a line of talented players Toronto FC has recruited from European leagues. It’s the opening move in a renewed push to make TFC one of MLS’s preeminent teams. Labeling Insigne a “foundational piece” suggests that this is a step in a process.
Insigne is now part of a club remaking itself since the last gasp of its previous golden age. Bob Bradley took over as coach last in late November, and Insigne is another major step in a process.
“I could have stayed in Europe. I’m 31 so I still have many years in front of me,” Insigne said through a translator at his introductory press conference. “But I wanted to choose the happiness and the well-being of my family. I won a lot with Napoli and I lost as well. But I wanted a change. And more importantly a challenge, either in another European club or here in North America.”
There is no denying Insigne’s credentials. A full Italian international, Insigne starred at Napoli for a decade before leaving southern Italy for Major League Soccer. During his run in Serie A, he scored 96 goals in 337 league matches and added 18 goals in European competitions.
His record with Italy only adds to his pedigree. Though Italy missed the 2018 World Cup and will again be absent for the 2022 version of the tournament, the Azzurri won the European title last year in the delayed Euro 2020 competition. Insigne scored the match-winning goal against Belgium in the quarterfinal to push Italy on to its eventual title.
A six-month buildup to Insigne’s arrival has done little to quell excitement in Toronto. 2022 has been a struggle so far. 12th in the table, the pressure for improvement will only increase with their new star on the field. But this, of course, is MLS. Despite sitting two spots off the bottom of the table, Toronto is only six points out of a playoff spot.
How Bradley will deploy Insigne is one of the more fascinating questions ahead of a likely debut on July 9 against San Jose. With Napoli, Insigne played almost exclusively as a left-sided forward, cutting in on his dominant right foot. He joins a squad with Jesus Jimenez, currently tied for fourth in MLS with eight goals, Ayo Akinola, and 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo as attacking options.
Other clubs are making splashy moves for famous players and paying big money to acquire what they hope will be transformational talent. Toronto is doing it bigger, and with it, choosing to increase the pressure to win.
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