It looked like business as usual at Toronto FC on Tuesday with Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi both training.
But there was likely plenty of action behind closed doors as the beleaguered franchise fought fires on and off the field, dealing with rumours about Insigne’s state of mind and a frustrated outburst from Bernardeschi after Saturday’s night’s 1-0 loss in Austin dropped Toronto to 2-5-7 in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Insigne was a surprise omission Saturday with coach Bob Bradley explained after the match that the 31-year-old had landed awkwardly on a play during the mid-week scoreless draw with the visiting Red Bulls.
“He was still struggling (Friday). He was out on the field hoping that it would be OK but in the end he was not able to work (Friday) so we didn’t bring him here,” Bradley said. “Hopefully that’s not a big thing.”
An emotional Bernardeschi raised eyebrows in a post-game virtual availability in Austin with a frustrated outburst that seemed directed at his coach.
“We don’t play,” the Italian, the fourth-highest-paid player in the league at US$6.295 million this season, said in English. “We play long pass. We don’t have any idea to play.”
“I think this city, the fans, everybody, don’t deserve this,” he added. “And I think maybe we need to change something. We need a little bit more tactics. We need an idea how we play, because this is the real problem for me. It’s impossible to play like this when we play without (an) idea.”
Asked whether the problem was in executing the game plan or the game plan itself, Bernardeschi replied: “We don’t have a construction in the game. When the player has the ball, we don’t know how to pass the ball. This is the real problem. Because we don’t train about that.
“We lose every game. We tie, we lose, we tie, we lose. Sometimes we win. But I can’t believe this, sincerely. This is no good for the young players. They need to get better and grow up with an idea of football We need the idea of football.”
Bernardeschi, who always wears his heart on his sleeve, was substituted in the 67th minute with Bradley saying later he had been suffering from a stomach bug during the week.
Former Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle, a co-host of “MLS 360″ on Apple TV, added fuel to the fire on Monday’s MLS Extratime podcast by saying Insigne did not want to work with Bradley, citing “a source close to the situation in Toronto.”
There were also suggestions on social media that Insigne had indeed made the trip to Austin only to have a disagreement with Bradley.
“He never travelled,” midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said of Insigne.
“Before we were even on the bus going to the airport (to fly to Austin), it was already confirmed that he was not travelling.” Kaye added. “I don’t know where there rumours come from. I don’t know where people get their information about this situation because there was no dispute between Lorenzo and the coach.
“It was very clear to the whole team that he thought it was best for him to stay back and be assessed. And we supported that and respected that and we just moved forward as a team and took the guys who were ready to play to Austin.”
Bradley, who normally only meets the media immediately before and after games, was not available to speak Tuesday.
The rumour mill and accompanying outside noise are the last thing the struggling team needs, with more than a few supporters using social media to vent their frustration at the club’s lack of progress.
Injuries and a lack of depth have hamstrung Toronto. Bradley has already used 24 different players in his starting lineup for league play this season.
TFC was missing 10 players through injury or suspension for the match in Austin. The walking wounded included four key starters in captain Michel Bradley, Insigne, centre back Sigurd Rosted and Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio.
Centre back Matt Hedges and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye returned to the starting lineup on the weekend after injury absences. But the TFC injury list also included defender Shane O’Neill, midfielders Alonso Coello and Victor Vazquez and forwards Adama Diomande and Deandre Kerr.
With Bradley, Osorio and Insigne not dressed, Richie Laryea captained the team.
After serving a two-game suspension, midfielder/forward Jahkeele Marshall Rutty will be available for Saturday’s game against visiting D.C. United (5-5-4). Vazquez is scheduled to return to Canada on Wednesday after undergoing a procedure on his foot in his native Spain.
O’Neill and Osorio worked out on their own Tuesday. Osorio, who is recovering from a medial collateral ligament sprain in his knee, did some running. The club has yet to announce a timetable for his return, however.
Two of Toronto’s five league losses have come on stoppage-time goals. TFC conceded a 91st-minute goal on the weekend in Austin and goals in the 90th and 98th minute in the season-opening 2-2 defeat at D.C. United on Feb. 25.
On the other side of the coin, Toronto rallied for a 2-2 tie April 15 in Atlanta on Brandon Servania’s 94th-minute strike.
But there have been worrying signs. TFC held the lead in five of its first seven league outings this season (the other two game were scoreless draws at San Jose and Nashville) and held on to win just one of them (2-0 over visiting Inter Miami on March 18) while compiling a 1-1-5 start.
Toronto has held the lead in just one of the seven league games since while going 1-4-2. TFC has been blanked in its last four league outings and has not scored since CJ Sapong’s goal April 29 in a 1-0 win over NYCFC.
Toronto’s league scoring drought now extends 404 minutes. Bradley’s club ranks 27th in the league in shots, 21st in shots on target, is tied for 20th in goals scored (13) and ranks 16th in goals allowed (18).
It has yet to win on the road in league play at 0-4-3 this season, with just five goals scored in the seven away outings. And it exited the Canadian Championship at the first hurdle, beaten 2-1 by rival CF Montreal.
D.C. United, which finished seven points below Toronto in the East basement last season at 7-21-6, comes to Toronto nine places and six points above TFC in the standings.