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Toronto FC adds more star quality with Italian Federico Bernardeschi

TORONTO — It’s been hurry up and wait with Toronto FC in recent months as Bob Bradley remakes the MLS club.

Wait for Lorenzo Insigne to sign — and then arrive. Wait for Domenico Criscito to choose Toronto. Wait for the Carlos Salcedo situation to sort itself out.

Now the wait for Federico Bernardeschi is over.

TFC announced Friday that it has signed the out-of-contract Juventus winger, who had been in club’s sights for some time.

Bernardeschi is the third Italian to join TFC this season, following star winger Insigne and veteran fullback Criscito. Like Insigne, Bernardeschi has designated player status on the roster.

Toronto has also added Canadian midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye via a trade with Colorado.

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Read more: Toronto FC acquires Canadian midfielder Mark Anthony Kaye from Colorado Rapids

Bernardeschi, who has both Champions and Europa League experience, has won 38 caps for Italy with six goals and six assists.

He made a combined 183 appearances over five seasons with Juventus, scoring 12 goals and adding 24 assists across all competitions.

“We are thrilled to add Federico to our team,” Toronto FC President Bill Manning said in a release. “As a player and a person, we believe he’s exactly what we need right now, both on the field and in the locker room.

“Federico has proven himself to be a champion and a leader at Juventus and for the Italian national team and brings a pedigree to Toronto that’s second to none.”

After turning heads earlier in his career at Fiorentina, Bernardeschi moved to Juventus in July 2017 on a 40-million-euro (C$52.6 million) transfer.

He did not enjoy as much success as expected during his five years in Turin but still won a lot of hardware. He helped Juve win three Italian league titles, two Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italiana.

His contract with Juve expired June 30.

Read more: Toronto FC adds experience in the form of veteran Italian defender Domenico Criscito

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The July 7 trade that sent former league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo to Inter Miami CF opened up a designated player spot for Bernardeschi. The decision to terminate Mexican defender Carlos Salcedo’s contract by mutual consent, announced earlier this week, freed up another DP opening.

Criscito has already featured on the field for Toronto, wasting little time showing his composure and experience. Insigne, recovering from a calf issue, continues to work out on his own with Bradley targeting the July 23 home game against Charlotte FC as a possible debut.

While Insigne and Bernardeschi give Toronto a potent tandem flanking Spanish striker Jesus Jimenez, help is needed for a backline that ranks 26th in the 28-team league, conceding 1.90 goals a game on average. The team has not registered a shutout in league play since a 0-0 draw in Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021.

Toronto’s defence is low on bodies with the departure of Salcedo, who wanted to return to Mexico for family reasons. He has since signed with FC Juarez.

French-born Congolese international Chris Mavinga, in his sixth season with the club, is nursing a hamstring issue and is unavailable for Saturday’s game at CF Montreal.

Mavinga took to social media to apologize after a forgettable outing mid-week in a 2-0 loss at Chicago.

Mavinga limped off in the 31st minute, feeling his hamstring. Lukas MacNaughton came off the bench to join Shane O’Neill at centre back. Criscito can also play in the heart of the defence.

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“It’s an area where we’re pretty thin, no doubt about that,” said Bradley.

Read more: San Jose scores late to earn tie and hand Toronto FC another painful lesson

Mavinga, a father of two whose wife gave birth to their son in December, said via social media that he has been dealing with family issues off the pitch. He later sent a tweet directed at doctors, nurses and volunteers at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children thanking them saving our kids’ lives during Christmas and New Year’s Day.“

It’s clear that Bradley, who doubles as the club’s sporting director, has more personnel moves to make.

“To make a really good team, there’s a lot to do still ? We’ll see what else is possible in this period (the MLS secondary transfer window),” he said. “And have the rest of the season to push and grow. And then we’ll be ready when the season’s over to look at ourselves in a hard way and figure out where we go next.”

Toronto (5-11-4) stands 10 points and nine places below fourth-place Montreal (9-8-2) in the Eastern Conference standings. While TFC is seven points out of the playoffs, Bradley believes the post-season is still possible.

“Yes, I think we can do it,” he said. “It’s going to be hard work.”

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