Toronto FC

Reds gear up to take on NYCFC with the return of Insigne: "We will bring the fight this game”


Toronto FC takes to the field this weekend with the wind at their back.

The side will be carrying the momentum of five-straight wins – three in MLS and two in the Canadian Championship – into Saturday’s contest against NYCFC at BMO Field.

“I'm enjoying it,” said John Herdman on Friday. “It always feels better when we're winning.”

“At the start of the season, it felt good, we had a blip, but [the group] responded well,” he continued. “A win tomorrow at home, for the fans most importantly, but for us to just stay in touch with that top four. That's the exciting thing, we're right there.”

TFC will be bolstered from some good news Herdman shared regarding the fitness of Lorenzo Insigne.

“He'll play tomorrow,” revealed Herdman. “Just got to make decisions on whether we start him or finish [with] him.”

“It's great news,” elaborated the coach.

“For the fans, for the club, for the team. We said during the transfer window, we had a new signing coming in about six weeks time: bringing our superstar back.”

“We've missed him – we have missed him,” Herdman continued. “We've lost some games, won some games; when a player like that is out of the lineup, you just know that other players are going to get picked up in the game and it'll be harder to create things. We're excited to see what he does, whatever time he gets tomorrow. I'm sure he's excited as well.”


The Italian left Toronto’s win over Atlanta United at the end of March with a thigh injury that has kept him sidelined since.

“It's a tough period of time for any player,” said Herdman. “He was in such a rich vein of form and enjoying his football, enjoying where we were in the league at the time. He’s itching to get back.”

“These last two weeks you can sense the excitement. He's been putting a big shift in, he was back on the field this week in full training,” he observed. “You notice him, as soon as he's back you start to see the things only he can do.”

Throw in a Federico Bernardeschi who has seen his graft transform into goals and assists of late and Toronto becomes an even more dangerous challenger in the Eastern Conference.

“Them two together,” imagined Herdman. “With [Jonathan] Osorio in the mix, Derrick Etienne Jr., Prince Owusu in form, Richie Laryea to come back.”

“And then you see people like Deybi Flores, Sean Johnson, Nicksoen Gomis, Kevin Long. Sigurd Rosted, in the form he's been in, Raoul Petretta,” he listed.

“It’s an exciting group, it really is. When that group comes back, and if we can get the consistency we've had with the group we've got now, we can really take it up another level.”

What a difference eight months can make.

11 matches into the 2024 season TFC side on 19 points in third place in the East. More to the point, the side is enjoying their football.

“It does [feel like night and day],” compared Rosted. “It was a really big change, John coming in.”

“We have a lot of clarity this year, all of the players know what to do in their position on the field,” he highlighted. “That turns to good confidence on the field and everybody's happy to play.”

Toronto’s total in 34 matches last season was 22 points, a mark that could be surpassed on Saturday.

“I hadn’t even thought about that one,” dismissed Herdman. “Just getting the win is front and centre, to keep the climb onto the league.”

“It's funny we haven't looked back on last year,” he underlined. “That's been a big part of our commitment here, that what happened happened, we've left it in the past, and everything is just future focused: what can we do to achieve our goals?”

Standing in their way this weekend is NYCFC.

The two have already met this season, on March 16 at Yankee Stadium. Toronto took an early lead through Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, only for the hosts to pull level in the 24th minute via a Santiago Rodríguez free-kick and then find the game-winner on a Kevin O’Toole header after the restart in the frenetic energy of that matchbook pitch.

It was TFC’s first loss of the year; a much-needed first win of 2024 for New York.

“Playing on the narrow pitch is different, always,” said Herdman. “They have a real advantage playing that week in, week out. When you get there you start to realize there's a style you have to be committed to.”

“I was a bit naive in that game. We took the lead, 1-0 and probably could have been more direct and more in their face,” he reflected.

“That will be a learning going into the next at their place, but here, we have our fans. Our fans make a hell of a difference. We’ve felt that at every game we've played here.”

Nick Cushing’s side used that victory as a launching pad. They lost narrowly in their next outing away to FC Cincinnati, but went unbeaten through the following five matches, including a run of three-straight wins at home over the New England Revolution, D.C. United, and Charlotte FC before losing 2-0 at Yankee Stadium against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.

Herdman knows what to expect from this weekend’s opposition.

“[NYCFC] will bring a similar style,” he anticipated. “They're the fifth most-aggressive team in MLS away from home, so we're expecting that high press hunt that you'll see from them, they'll try and pin you into your half. We've been working on that to see how we can eliminate their first line and just be smarter with their style of play.”

“They'll either set up with a back five or a back four,” Herdman laid out. “A lot of their games they play away from home with a back five, but they've had success in a four. We've been working on both those structures in the two days we've had. There's been a lot of off-field work with the players to get them ready, but either way we're in Toronto and we've got a style of play that we want to impart and it's up to us to be proactive and take the game to them.”

The Uruguayan Rodríguez leads the side with four goals and two assists through 11 appearances. Argentine Julián Fernández has also chipped in a pair of helpers.

Matches between these two have a way of bringing out the intensity in both sides.

“[The first meeting] was a must win for them and since then they've been having good form,” said Rosted. “They put it in a good fight; it was a good fight from us as well.”

“We will bring the fight this game,” he closed. “It's going to be some battles for sure.”