Toronto FC

Toronto FC dominate the 401 Derby with a 5-star performance and Bernardeschi's hattrick

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On derby day, anything can happen.

On Saturday night at BMO Field it did as Toronto FC defeated CF Montréal 5-1 in a very memorable edition of the Canadian rivalry.

Matty Longstaff opened the scoring after six minutes, emphatically placing a Tyrese Spicer ball across the line and Federico Bernardeschi made it 2-0 in the 12th minute with a left-footed blast into the top-near corner after Deybi Flores played him forward with an inviting diagonal ball.

Seven minutes later Prince Owusu added a third after Lorenzo Insigne intercepted an outlet pass and played to him, sending the BMO crowd into raptures. Bernardeschi would add two more after half-time – the first an untouched cross from the right that snuck in at the far-post in the 58th minute and the second when a Derrick Etienne Jr. pass kicked off the heels of a Montréal defender and fell perfectly to him at the back-post on the hour-mark.

The visitors would pull one back in the 67th minute through Sunusi Ibrahim, denying TFC the clean-sheet, the day, however, was already won.

“Tonight the lads brought it together, they really did,” said John Herdman post-match. “When you see the passion, the intensity, the willingness to fight for each other, that team spirit is there.”

It was Bernardeschi’s first hat-trick for Toronto. All six of his MLS goals have come in the last three league matches and he has scored seven in the last four outings across all competitions.

“It was very important tonight, for the city, for the fans, for the team,” said the Italian afterwards. “We feel the city, especially [in] an important game like that, a derby, and we know how it's important, this game, for the fans.”

“We gave everything on the field. The result is very important for us and for the city,” he continued. “We are happy about that and tonight we enjoy the night.”

Derbies are personal affairs. They can’t be explained, only felt.

Herdman knew it was vital that that essence be distilled by those who know it best and so he handed over some of his time in the prematch space to the lads from Toronto and the injured TFC captain, Jonathan Osorio.

“We went through the tactical keys,” he recounted. “And I made it clear that I'm not from this city, my derby’s the Tyne-Wear derby, for this player his derby is this, but when we signed for this club, we took on the responsibility for days like this and we would do it for the six, seven lads in the room. We would do it for them today.”

“That was the start and then I let Jonathan finish it,” Herdman added. “He took the room himself and said what needed to be said.”

Those words made an impact.

“[The side] knew how important it was for the Toronto lads to get that result,” Herdman explained. “We talked about how many of us aren’t from this city, our parents, our grandparents didn’t create the opportunities that have been created, it wasn't really our derby.”

“We said we would represent tonight,” he continued. “We made an absolute commitment that we would represent – every man that wasn't from this city would show up with a passion and an energy to make sure that those Toronto lads could walk down the street with their head up the next day and go to lunch and dinner with their heads up.”

“That was the big focus today, a team performance,” added the coach. “And building on this spirit that we’ve seen.”

Notably, it was the first time since March 16 that Bernardeschi, Insigne, and Owusu started the match together.

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“We’re still missing a couple with Osorio and [Richie] Laryea, Kevin Long – there's a few out tonight,” reminded Herdman. “But there was a mentality from the group, they were absolutely committed to that performance tonight and to the fans.”

“Proud of them. They put a hell of a shift in,” he continued. “We asked them to bring a lot of passion and to bring the discipline around the tactical identity. We knew we had a lot of quality on the pitch, but you have to use it. We did that tonight on many occasions.”

Asked how much damage he thought a fully fit Toronto FC could do, Bernardeschi was plain: “A lot. Honestly, a lot.”

“We played just one game, the first game in Cincinnati, with all the players,” he continued. “If you are all together, we are a great team honestly.”

He singled out the young players and the squad leaders for specific praise.

“I'm very happy about the young guys, they’ve improved a lot. They put everything on the field,” highlighted the Italian.

“I'm really proud about the leaders because everybody puts everything on the field this year.”

Tasked with a new position at wing-back and extra leadership responsibilities Bernardeschi has flourished. Held out of the goal-scoring through the first ten matches his commitment never waived. Every match he put in a shift.

“There’s layers to him,” reflected Herdman of the hat-trick derby hero. “He's a really caring man. From what I can see, he's a good dad, he’s a good husband, he's a great teammate, and he's really taken on that leadership role.”

“Tonight to see him score a hat-trick was special because he went ten games, it was tough for him. He was struggling inside. Everyone is asking the question, is he ever going to score for Toronto,” he continued. “We just knew it would come – it would come.”

“The New England game where he clears the ball off the line in the 95th minute, he's the last defender. His teammates have seen that,” Herdman recalled.

“He has got massive respect from the fans and his teammates. [For] periods, he carried the team.”

Bernardeschi knew his time would come.

“Balance in life, in the football life, is the most important thing,” he said. “You have to keep your balance.”

“When you play, sometimes you don't score, but the important thing is you work hard for the team, you put everything on the field,” Bernardeschi added. “When you do everything and you put everything on the field, things happen.”

Case in point, his second goal: do the right things and good things can happen.

“It was a cross for Prince,” admitted Bernardeschi. “He didn't touch [it] – unfortunately for him, fortunately for me – but doesn't matter if I got an assist or a goal. The important [thing] is the ball was inside the net.”

And on his third: make the run, be in the right position, and be there to capitalize when the ball falls for you.

Longstaff’s opener was another such example, bursting into the area from the back-side to make himself a target for Spicer’s cross. It was his third goal in the last five matches.

“I watched him for Newcastle and what I seen was a young player that burst on to the scene and then over time lost his confidence,” said Herdman. “The club took a gamble to bring him in.”

“You know you're always going to get a work ethic from lads from Newcastle, they’re going to put a shift in,” he continued. “That's the starting point – and the club really needed that – what you've started to see is his quality. He's got real quality. He can pick those passes and he's got the energy to join the box.”

His midfield partner Flores was immense, he had a hand in two of the goals with defence-splitting diagonal through-balls and was in the face of the opponent every time Montréal dared to face the Toronto goal.

“That was his best game for Toronto,” said Herdman, unprompted. “He brought exactly what we had wanted to see from Deybi at this club, that warrior, that general in the middle, that was going to break up attacks.”

“For me, he was the pick of the bunch in the midfield tonight,” he added. “He was a standout performer.”

Over the course of a long season there are a few nights that standout. Saturday at BMO against Montréal, whatever lies ahead, was one of them.

“We deserved a night like that. We deserved that,” closed Bernardeschi.

“One of the best performances that I have seen here in Toronto. We are very happy, we are excited, honestly.”