Last week, Toronto FC completed one of the biggest signings in MLS history.
TFC brought in Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne, an Italian international with a very impressive pedigree. Insigne is a consistent scorer in Serie A, putting up double-digit goals and assists every season and solidifying himself as one of the best attackers in the league.
Best of all: at 30, he is squarely in his prime. He was a starter and important contributor to Italy’s Euro 2020 winner. It’s hard to overstate how big of a move this is for MLS. We’re used to MLS signing huge names, and while those names have usually been very productive players in Europe’s top leagues, they’re usually aged 34 or later. Those are the Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa, David Beckham-types of players.
We’ve seen MLS clubs sign well-known in-their-prime players from top European leagues, too. Sebastian Giovinco and Carlos Vela are the best examples; they both strolled into MLS and became the best player immediately, winning trophies and dominating. Chicharito is in a similar mold.
In-his-prime Insigne a difference maker
Insigne is on a different level from those players. He was dominating a big five European league on a prominent club, and just won the Euros as a starter. How many MLS players have done that within a year of coming to North America? His decision to come to MLS could be a game-changer. It’s what people around MLS have been talking about for years: the in-his-prime worldwide star choosing MLS.
Toronto spent $15 million on Insigne, per ESPN, and he’ll take up a DP slot, arriving in the summer. (This type of signing is exactly why the DP slot was invented.) The interesting thing about this signing is that Toronto FC is coming off a pretty terrible season. They won just six games and finished second to last in the Eastern Conference. They were unsuccessful in both attack and defense.
They were an old team with younger guys who couldn’t quite pick up the slack of the aging veterans. Their solution this offseason was to clean house. They’ve let 10 players walk by either declining their option or letting them leave on the expiration of their contract (though it’s still hypothetically possible that they re-sign some of those players). Longtime fullback Justin Morrow retired, and center back Omar Gonzalez signed with the Revolution as a free agent. They are trying to buy out Jozy Altidore’s contract in order to become roster compliant, although that is easier said than done.
Their signings have been few and far between so far. Everyone expects that to change quickly. They’ve signed two players besides Insigne: 28-year-old center back Shane O’Neill, an experienced and competent MLS center back who was most recently with Seattle; and 21-year-old Homegrown defender Luca Petrasso.
The biggest acquisition has been at coach. They hired Bob Bradley as their new manager. Bradley will get to coach his son, as a 34-year-old Michael Bradley remains at TFC, and presumably try to build a contender in the mold of his juggernaut LAFC side, which was based around Vela.
How will TFC will out their roster?
The key is filling out the roster. The Athletic reported that Toronto will likely pull off a straight swap with Tigres UANL, swapping disappointing DP attacker Yeferson Soteldo for stud defender Carlos Salcedo. Salcedo, 28, is one of the best center backs in Liga MX and a Mexican international. Given Soteldo’s issues this past season, and his murky fit with Insigne, it would be a coup to trade him for an elite defender.
Bradley will likely have to rely on a number of young players and fringe pickups, though TFC will surely be more active in the transfer market with their remaining allocation money and DP spot (once Altidore is bought out). They already have superstar Alejandro Pozuelo, the 2020 league MVP. Bradley was excellent at finding diamonds in the rough with LA.
In Insigne, Toronto has the best player in the league, and a potential trailblazer for MLS. Now we’ll see how they maximize their time with him.