Toronto FC fans haven’t had many reasons to enjoy watching Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi play over the last year, but new head coach John Herdman is finding a thrill in seeing the Italians do their thing in preseason camp.
“Lorenzo and Federico, they’ve worked hard behind the scenes to keep the mood high and raise the intensity,” Herdman told reporters as he delivered an update from Florida, where TFC are currently gearing up for their first preseason friendly against Nashville on Friday. “They bring intensity and competitiveness, they bring their personalities every day…”
It’s the competitiveness that Herdman is particularly enjoying.
The new head coach has reiterated time and time again that the two lucratively paid DPs are fully committed to the cause for 2024. He’s named both of them in his leadership group that is acting as a support system for new captain Jonathan Osorio and believes they have the fire in their bellies that can help them turn their own fortunes around this year, as well as the club’s direction as a whole.
If you believe certain media reports, the two Italians actually don’t get on particularly well. While Herdman seemed to hint that their highly competitive nature can cause disagreements, he stressed that their attitude is exactly what he wants to see from his players.
“Those arguments, scuffles, that’s what we want in those moments,” Herdman added. “There’s a real competitive environment with the quality they have. When their competition dials up, it’s special to watch.”
The level of passion Herdman says he’s seeing from the Italians is a microcosm of the general mood in camp.
“We’ve set it up to be intense to ensure we get a full look at and feel for the players we have in front of us…” Herdman added. “I’m really starting to see the players and how they’ve responded to the competition… Team spirit is on track.”
Herdman also revealed that striker Adama Diomande, who was brought in under former head coach Bob Bradley last January but played just 165 minutes of action in a dreadfully injury-hit first season in Toronto, has linked up with his teammates in Florida.
“Diomande is with the squad now on his return to full fitness coming off his long injury,” continued Herdman. “He won’t be playing the Nashville game. There’s a high chance his first games for us will be in phase two.
“I’m really happy with the medical team and the sports science team… Tyrese [Spicer] is still recovering from a foot injury and won’t be ready for the Nashville game as he continues his return to play.”
The “phase two” that Herdman refers to is the latter part of TFC’s preseason camp. After playing Nashville on Friday, TFC will fly from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Santa Barbara, Calif., to play three other preseason friendly games: against MLS Cup winners Columbus Crew on February 10, Real Salt Lake on February 13, and LAFC on February 17.
While Herdman’s team prepares to begin playing preseason games, the club’s front office are hard at work.
TFC’s only offseason signing so far this winter — other than Spicer and the other SuperDraft picks — has been midfielder Deybi Flores. With just three-and-a-half weeks until the MLS season opener against FC Cincinnati, that’s a big concern for supporters.
Herdman was keen to emphasize that the lack of transfer movement isn’t for lack of trying. Everyone knows that TFC are pretty hamstrung by a shortage of salary cap space, but Herdman hinted that there could be good news on the transfer front soon.
“There’s good work going on behind the scenes,” Herdman concluded. “The front office have some players they’re talking to and some plans underway…
“Going into phase two of preseason, we really want to have some incoming players… If we can bring anyone in by the end of the European transfer window, we will; if we can’t, we’ll aim to have new bodies in as the camp progresses.”
While that sounds promising, if vague, it may require exits. Herdman’s comments on Wednesday came soon after an eyebrow-raising report that Insigne had turned down a move to Premier League scatter-gun spenders Nottingham Forest. Bernardeschi, meanwhile, has reportedly been rejected by about half of Italy.
But for all his comments about the Italian’s commitment and their large role this year, Herdman has not closed the door entirely on them potentially leaving.
“If a top team in the world came in at the right price, this an industry, it’s a business,” Herdman said two weeks ago. There’s still a lot that could possibly happen at the club in the next few weeks.