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Lorenzo Insigne saw a little more than an hour’s action in Toronto FC’s season-opening scoreless draw at FC Cincinnati.

And there is a question mark over what role the Italian star will play next Sunday, if any, when TFC faces the New England Revolution on Gillette Stadium’s artificial turf.

After a 2023 season in which the 32-year-old Insigne appeared in just 20 of Toronto’s 34 league games owing to a rash of injuries, Toronto coach John Herdman plans to handle the former Napoli captain carefully this year.

“We’ve got to manage him like he’s a Ferrari and make sure he’s looked after in that way,” Herdman said ahead of kickoff.

Insigne, whose salary of US$15.4-million was second only to Lionel Messi’s US$20.4-million with Inter Miami CF last season, had four goals and five assists in 2023.

Herdman said TFC has studied how Insigne was used by Napoli.

“He played 80 per cent of the games and rarely did he ever finish a game for Napoli,” he said.

“We’ll manage him so he can play as many games, start as many games as he can,” Herdman added. “But games on [artificial] turf are a problem for him, for sure. The fans will just have to accept that. We just wanted him at his best. And I want him playing at home, every game.”

While Insigne, whose talents lie in the attacking end of the field, started last Sunday at TQL Stadium, Herdman suggested he may be a spectator on the road this season in favour of more defensive-minded players as TFC looks to improve its dismal road record.

Toronto (4-20-10) picked up just four of a possible 51 points away from home last season, posting an 0-13-4 record.

And with Toronto’s home opener against Charlotte FC looming on March 9, Insigne could be held back from the New England game Sunday.

Foxborough evokes some bad memories for TFC. Dutch designated player Danny Koevermans wrecked his knee there in July, 2012, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a collision with New England defender A.J. Soares.

Insigne played in just one of Toronto’s four preseason games, impressing in a 60-minute showing against Nashville SC in Florida in a Feb. 2 outing in which both he and fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi scored.

“He literally dominated that game,” Herdman said of Insigne. “So you see when he’s in rhythm and he’s clear and the guys around are clear on how we open [the opposition] up, he was just exceptional.”

TFC brought in Greg Bay, a respected physiotherapist who is the Canadian men’s team medical lead, as part of the “special support” to help look after Insigne. Herdman credits Bay for getting Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who plays his club football in Portugal for FC Porto, “back to where he needed to be” after a serious knee injury.

Insigne’s progress was slowed after having “a reaction” to training on artificial turf upon the team’s return to Toronto from the second half of training camp in California.

Still, he showed flashes of his skills Sunday.

Insigne almost scored in the seventh minute, forcing a desperate lunging save from Roman Celentano off a free kick just outside the penalty box after Richie Laryea was fouled driving into the box.

And in first-half stoppage time, he fired a shot at goal, only to see it deflect off a defender and then hit teammate Prince Owusu.

Insigne was assessed at halftime when it was determined he could go a little longer.

“For him it’s still preseason,” said Herdman.

“But this is about managing Lorenzo through the whole season,” he added. “So we get him for as many home games as we can. There’s other players, that when we’re on the road, can do some of the work that has to be done to keep clean sheets and to get points on the road.”

The good news is Insigne left the game on his own steam. Last season he limped off 34 minutes into the Feb. 25 season opener, a 3-2 loss at D.C. United. He missed the next six games.

“I’ve never had so many injuries in my career as I’ve had this past year and I hope I’m going to get better and in the new season we’re all going to work hard together,” Insigne said in October as the 2023 season wound down.

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