Italian stars learning on the job as Toronto FC completes marathon week in MLS

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The learning curve in Major League Soccer continues for Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.

The Italian stars played their first three games for Toronto FC, including two on artificial turf, and travelled more than 8,000 kilometres this week as the team went from BMO Field to Vancouver and back before flying to Boston.

Goalkeeper Alex Bono called it a “trial by fire” for the two new designated players.

“I’d like to tell them they’ve seen some of the toughest conditions, with the flights and the fields,” added Bono, who marked his 150th appearance in all competitions from Toronto. “I want to tell them it gets better. So just stick with it.”

Toronto returns home after picking up a rare point on the road Saturday with a 0-0 draw against the New England Revolution. TFC had a shot at the win but was foiled when Djordje Petrovic stopped Insigne from the penalty spot in the 81st minute.

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The six-foot-four Serbian goalkeeper dove to his right, getting one hand on the ball.

“A great save,” said Bono. “He was at full stretch. He read it right. Lorenzo put it on target and he made a save. What are you going to do?”

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The result made for a 1-1-1 week for TFC following a 5-3 penalty shootout loss Tuesday in Vancouver to the Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final and a 4-0 league romp over visiting Charlotte FC last Saturday that saw Insigne and Bernardeschi turn heads in their MLS debut.

Bernardeschi had a goal and an assist while Insigne had an assist in the Charlotte win.

Toronto (6-12-5) remains winless away from home in league play this season (0-7-4), with just four points out of a possible 33. On a positive note, Saturday marked a second straight clean sheet for Toronto which ended a string of 29 league games without a shutout when it blanked Charlotte.

New England (6-7-9) saw its winless run grow to six (0-2-4) while extending its unbeaten streak at home to eight games (3-0-5). The Revs last went six or more consecutive matches (0-6-3) without a victory from July to September 2018 under former coach Brad Friedel.

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Referee Ismir Pekmic pointed to the penalty spot in the 75th minute after Toronto substitute Deandre Kerr went down as Matt Polster challenged for the ball just inside the box. Insigne waited to take the kick as Canadian video assistant referee Carol Anne Chenard checked the play.

Pekmic was summoned to the pitch-side monitor but did not change his mind, much to New England’s displeasure.

Read more: Italian stars show off their skills as Toronto FC hammers Charlotte FC

Newly signed Revs designated player Giacomo Vrioni, making his home debut off the bench, had a chance to win it in stoppage time but his deflection from in-close flashed wide.

Toronto outshot New England 15-13 (3-2 in shots on target) and had nine corners to the Revs’ three. Insigne had six of Toronto’s shots, including all three on target.

Both teams appeared off their game in the opening half, with passes going astray and final touches lacking.

Going into weekend play, 13th-place Toronto was three places and four points below New England in the Eastern Conference _ and six points out of a playoff position.

Insigne, Bernardeschi and fellow Italian Domenico Criscito all started for Toronto. Insigne and Bernardeschi showed flashes of their skills on the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium but overall it was a frustrating evening for the star duo.

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Still Bernardeschi showed his class in the 58th minute, with a left-footed long-range shot out of nowhere that rattled the goalpost as Petrovic looked on.

Insigne also came close in the 44th minute but his shot from close range was stopped by Petrovic after Bernardeschi found his countryman in the penalty box with a nice diagonal ball. It was Toronto’s lone shot on target in the half.

Bernardeschi exited in the 68th minute. Four minutes later, Insigne’s swerving shot from outside the box forced an acrobatic one-handed save from Petrovic.

Read more: Former Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi happy for new beginning with Toronto FC

Toronto coach Bob Bradley believes Insigne and Bernardeschi are doing just fine, given the circumstances.

“It’s just so important to keep reminding everyone that for both Lorenzo and for Federico, this is still like pre-season,” he said. “There’s been so few training sessions — regular full training sessions — that we’ve had. The day before the game or a recovery day (after a game), those aren’t real training sessions.

“These guys are trying to jump in, understand the league, get a feel for things, travel, different kind of surfaces. It’s not easy,” he added. “I really appreciate the way these guys go about it. I think they see what we’re trying to do and they feel good about it. Those are things we want to build on.”

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The 35-year-old Criscito has also lived up to his billing, providing a steady presence at left fullback.

Toronto also got fine performances from centre back Lukas MacNaughton and captain Michael Bradley, Bob’s son.

Saturday’s matchup featured two of the league’s most successful coaches in New England’s Bruce Arena and Toronto’s Bradley, who came into the game with 246 and 188 regular-season wins, respectively.

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The two go back. Bradley served as an assistant coach under Arena at the University of Virginia in 1983-84 and assisted Arena at D.C. United in 1996-97. They also worked together with the U.S. Olympic team.

Chris Mavinga and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty slotted in for Toronto, replacing Shane O’Neill and Kosi Thompson. Toronto was without injured goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Noble Okello.

New England star striker Gustavo Bou, an Argentine designated player who leads the team with seven goals, was out with a leg injury.

New England midfielder Emmanuel Boateng came on in the 69th minute, making his 150th MLS regular-season appearance.

Former Toronto striker Jozy Altidore, who signed with New England after his contract was bought out by TFC in February, joined Mexico’s Puebla this week on loan until January.

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TFC, which had won its previous two visits to Foxborough, now has a 4-10-6 record at Gillette Stadium.

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