Toronto FC may have made their biggest move of the offseason – perhaps the biggest in MLS history – in signing Lorenzo Insigne, but it will not be the last transaction that occurs before the season kicks off at the end of February.
The club had previously signed 28-year-old free agent centre-back Shane O’Neill, who has tons of MLS experience and has excelled with Seattle Sounders FC the last few seasons. And with the transfer of Richie Laryea to Nottingham Forest FC and the trade of Dom Dwyer to FC Dallas there have already been some notable departures.
TFC President Bill Manning, speaking on Saturday following the announcement of Insigne, anticipated that the next few weeks would be busy.
“We want to improve for our team,” he levelled. “We are diligently working every day to try to do so.”
“We have a number of irons in the fire and we think over these next few weeks there will be a number of other transactions such that leading up to opening day you're going to have quite a different complexion of this team compared to what it was a year ago,” Manning continued. “It may take to the summer window for some players to join us, but we're looking at this long term and how we want to position our club with Lorenzo as an anchor as we go forward.”
The retooling began in earnest at the end of last season when Bob Bradley was brought on board as head coach and sporting director.
The roster decisions that followed and the additions of Insigne and O’Neill marked the first steps, inking Luca Petrasso to a homegrown contract and selecting a pair of Canadian prospects – goalkeeper Luka Gavran (31st overall) and forward Reshaun Walkes (55th overall) – in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft on Tuesday were further ones in the build towards the upcoming season.
“Bob has a real vision for how we're going to play football and what he'd like to see,” relayed Manning. “Those conversations happen on a daily basis, in terms of what we're doing to move it forward, to defensively improve, and how is it all going to come together.”
“This team is in the midst of a transformation,” he added. “It's not complete yet.”
In 2019 TFC experienced what an ordeal it can be to chase a player and pry them loose mid-European season with their pursuit and acquisition of Alejandro Pozuelo. Sometimes the right move is to wait until some of those complications minimize.
That was so in the case of Insigne, who will officially be available following July 1 from SSC Napoli.
“Lorenzo has played pretty much his entire career with Napoli. We're very respectful of that club,” explained Manning. “There's a lot of emotion involved and he is under contract through the end of June.”
“It was important to him and to his camp to be respectful – of the club and of the fans – and we understand that. Having him join us in July was understood from the very beginning. It's something that we've planned for all along,” he continued. “We will welcome him with open arms when he arrives in July. Their season ends the end of May, so he'll have an opportunity to come here in June and get his family settled, be able to work out a bit with the team, and then start with us in July playing games.”
“This allows him an opportunity to say goodbye to those great fans,” Manning added. “He's from Naples, so I'm sure it's going to be very emotional, but he's going to have this massive city of Toronto welcome him with open arms when he gets here.”
Good things come to those who wait.
Several times Manning said that Insigne would be an anchor around which TFC will look to build this next iteration of a championship club.
Toronto are not just getting a genuine world-class superstar on the pitch, but another leader with vast experience is coming into the fold.
“Whenever someone is a captain on any team, it tells you something about them,” said Manning. “They have leadership ability that their coach or their fellow teammates see in them and he wears the captain's armband for Napoli, a very famous club.”
“We all had a chance to see the European Championships and some of the behind scenes videos that have come out and he clearly has an infectious personality, has a great smile, seems to have a great banter with his teammates,” he highlighted. “Everyone we've spoken to, my interactions with him, have been extremely positive.”
“We see a young man who is at the peak of his career, who is serious about football, but someone who as a captain understands the team dynamic and what it takes,” Manning underlined. “You win a championship with a team, not just one player, and he sees that.”
“That’s why I think fans gravitate towards him, teammates gravitate towards him, and why we're going to build our team around him. We will add pieces that are going to amplify his talent. We're incredibly excited to have a player who was the captain of Napoli choose to join Toronto FC.”