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Insigne's long-range rocket lifts Toronto FC past Charlotte FC in home opener

Toronto FC's Lorenzo Insigne, right, battles for the ball with Charlotte FC's Kerwin Vargas during first half MLS action in Toronto, Saturday, March 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto FC's turnaround continued Saturday with a 1-0 win over a well-organized Charlotte FC in its home opener, thanks to a spectacular strike from Italian star Lorenzo Insigne.

Toronto, the worst team in Major League Soccer last season at 4-20-10 after conceding a whopping 59 goals, is now unbeaten at 2-0-1 and has yet to give up a goal.

With a draw in Cincinnati and win in New England, it has already matched its road points total of last season when it went 0-13-4 away from home And with seven points in three games, it is close to one-third of the 22 points it collected in 34 outings last season.

"This team is becoming mentally very strong," said captain Jonathan Osorio. "We believe in each other and we believe that we're going to win the game, at some point. I think we've shown that in the three games."

Goalkeeper Luka Gavran, who got the shutout starting in place of the injured Sean Johnson, says TFC is on the same page under coach John Herdman.

"Tactically we're just way more clear," he said. "And there's way more clarity of what everyone's job is.".

In truth, Saturday's contest wasn't exactly a thrill a minute, with both teams only managing three shots on target each. But Insigne got the announced crowd of 26,345 on a damp afternoon at BMO Field on their feet with a trademark goal. The 32-year-old Italian came off the left flank and kept moving until he had a clear shot at goal, roofing a long-distance rocket past diving goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina in the 80th minute.

Insigne then headed towards the Toronto bench like an Exocet missile, jumping into Herdman's arms when he got there, setting the stage for a ball of happy humanity as more players and staff joined in as the stadium rocked.

"The fans stuck with us," said Herdman. "And when Lorenzo scored, I just felt this is what the stadium can feel like through this season. I think they felt we might be back. We're getting close to it."

Insigne has accounted for both of Toronto's goals this season and each has been memorable. His winner last week in New England was an audacious chip into the top corner.

"He does it a million times in training," said Gavran. "I'm not surprised he did it today. But what a goal."

The 23-year-old from Hamilton made his fifth career start after Johnson, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts, was an unexpected absentee. A club spokesman said Johnson had felt something after training that needed to be assessed. 

The game came 11 years to the day that a 20-year-old Osorio made his MLS debut for Toronto. Osorio led his hometown club out Saturday, marking a club-record game No. 300 in MLS regular-season and playoff action.

Osorio, normally a midfielder, leads the club in appearances at 344 in all competitions while ranking third in goals at 62 (behind Sebastian Giovinco's 83 and Jozy Altidore's 79) and second in assists at 50 (behind Giovinco's 52).

The game was also a milestone 50th for TFC in all competitions for Bernardeschi. He and Insigne made their club debut July 23, 2022, in the club's first-ever meeting with Charlotte — a 4-0 Toronto win thanks to two goals by Michael Bradley and one each from Bernardeschi and Osorio.

Apart from Johnson, the only other Toronto change saw defender Nicksoen Gomis return to the lineup at the expense of forward Prince Owusu. 

Toronto was also missing injured forward Deandre Kerr and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea (thigh).

Charlotte coach Dean Smith, formerly of Leicester City and Aston Villa among other English clubs, went with the same lineup for the third game in a row. Former Canada captain Scott Arfield came off the Charlotte bench in the 71st minute.

Osorio started up front for Toronto as a false No. 9, flanked by Insigne and fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi.

Referee Chris Grabas, on the advice of the video assistant referee, went to the pitchside monitor to review a play that saw Charlotte forward Enzo Copetti go down in contact with Gavran in the Toronto penalty box. But the replay seemed to show a sliding Gavran got his foot to the ball before making contact with Copetti and Grabas kept with his original no-call.

Gavran made a fine save to deny Copetti in the 39th minute after a nifty turn by the Argentine designated player took defender Kevin Long out of the equation.

Long, apparently still feeling the effects of playing on turf last weekend in New England, was replaced by Sigurd Rosted at halftime.

Toronto, whose last home win was a 2-1 decision over Philadelphia on Aug. 30, is now 9-6-3 record in home openers with six clean sheets.

TFC visits Yankee Stadium to take on NYCFC next Saturday while Charlotte (1-1-1) visits Nashville SC.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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