Toronto FC has seen its fair share of superstars come and go over the years; from the likes of Julio Cesar and Jermain Defoe to Torsten Frings, Jozy Altidore and many others. One thing is for sure though, TFC love their Italians, undoubtedly one of Toronto’s best-ever players, Sebastian Giovinco was a revelation for the reds up until his departure in 2019.
So, in 2022 we find TFC crossing paths with Italians once again, this time with Genoa C.F.C. defender Domenico Criscito and arguably one of the best signings Toronto has ever made in S.S.C. Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne. Both players arrived on free transfers, Insigne on a four-year deal and Criscito on an 18-month contract until the 2023 campaign.
The arrival of the two European superstars comes at an interesting time for Toronto. In the Western Conference, TFC has the most losses of any club, currently sitting in third last only in front of Chicago Fire and D.C. United having 3 points separating them. The Reds currently lack creative diversity in the players that are supposed to be leading the attack, a place where Insigne may strive with his agility and quick-footed dribbling.
Insigne’s time at Napoli should be eye-opening to TFC fans. One of the most prominently consistent attackers in the Serie A, Insigne spent his entire career under contract with Napoli, really proving himself as a starter in the 2012/2013 season and onward. He played an astounding 433 games in all competitions for Naples, having 216 goal contributions in that time. The 31-year-old is preferred on the left side but has occasionally played through the middle as well.
Insigne, like Giovinco in the past, is a smaller winger (5’4”), which allows his low center of gravity to complement well with his pace and fast skill which can get past defenders to find ideal passing lanes or a strong finish. In the 2020 Euros, Insigne was a crucial piece of their successful national side, playing in all but one match during the competition scoring twice.
While Alejandro Pozuelo pulls the strings in the midfield, Jesus Jiminez leading the line and Jayden Nelson rising to a starting position on the wing, the inclusion of Insigne may finally unlock the potential TFC have with their promising attack.
On the flip side, TFC also conceded way too many goals that could be easily avoided, whether a goalkeeping issue with Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg or a strictly defensive problem with Carlos Salcedo who has been criticized for not adapting to the MLS/TFC style of play. Regardless, having a veteran defender in Criscito will not only allow them to have a strong ball-winning center back but also become a role model for the rest of TFC’s backline to learn from.
Criscito mainly played for Genoa, Juventus F.C. and FC Zenit throughout his career, shining both as a center-back and fullback on the left side. The Italian defender is 35, now on the latter end of his career but can still bring promise to Toronto. Playing in Italy, Russia and in the UEFA Champions League, Criscito has experienced top-flight football against the world’s best, strengthening his defensive positioning and intelligence on the pitch.
As his pace is not his strong suit, Criscito depends on his physicality and forward-thinking positioning to cut passing lanes and make those crucial interceptions when needed most. As TFC have weaknesses in their defence, the Italian defender will likely play through the middle as a center back, controlling his teammates and being a leader in decisive matches and moments.
Although it will be a tough task, TFC will look for a turnaround with the acquisition of their two new players, a tighter back line and more creative attacks going forward. As mentioned, it is likely the two will make their debut in front of the home crowd at BMO Field on July 9th against San Jose.