Six months ago, Toronto was the worst team in Major League Soccer, finishing last despite carrying the most expensive roster in the league. One of the team’s most expensive players — and biggest underperformers — was Federico Bernardeschi, the Italian midfielder who joined Toronto in 2022 following a charmed career with Juventus. 

Things clearly had to change for Toronto — and for Bernardeschi, who feuded with the team’s coach last season — and they have in a big way.
On Saturday, Bernardeschi scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win over Montréal CF in the Canadian Classique. It was Toronto’s biggest win of the MLS season and most lopsided result in the history of the Toronto-Montréal rivalry.

The win lifted Toronto to fifth in the Eastern Conference, nine points behind first-place Inter Miami. 

“We deserve a night like that,” Bernardeschi said after the match. 

Unlike many of MLS’ famous European imports, Bernardeschi arrived at just 28 years old. Accordingly, he was expected not just to deliver results in Toronto but to grow as an athlete, too.

That didn’t happen. Bernardeschi clashed with Toronto coach Bob Bradley and wasn’t shy about sharing his frustration with the media.

“We lose every game,” Bernardeschi complained last May, per “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.”

Bradley, stung by his star player’s lack of loyalty, punished Bernardeschi in training and stripped him of his leadership role. Bernardeschi, meanwhile, feuded with teammates and lashed out when they received promotional opportunities he believed should’ve gone to him.

Over the winter break last season, Toronto’s board sided with Bernardeschi. The team fired Bradley, replacing him with John Herdman, who had led the Canadian national team to the 2022 World Cup. His mission: Get the best from Bernardeschi as quickly as possible.

Herdman gave Bernardeschi the opportunity to be a leader again. He also told the Italian that he wouldn’t be accepting excuses in 2024 and the team would speak as a unit when dealing with the media.

Bernardeschi bought in, and his play has improved significantly. Led by Bernardeschi and his Italian teammate, Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto opened the season on a three-game unbeaten streak.

“He’s a really caring man,” Herdman said of Bernardeschi, per “From what I can see, he’s a good dad, a good husband. And what I’m seeing now is he’s a great teammate.”

MLS has a funny trend when it comes to last-place teams: They tend to break the cycle and top the league soon after their failures. Cincinnati pulled it off in 2023 when it followed back-to-back Wooden Spoon seasons with the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team with the league’s best regular-season record. 

Bernardeschi’s renaissance points to a similar trajectory for Toronto, whose game Saturday night at home against worst-to-first Cincinnati squad could accelerate it.

“It’s going to take some time, but you don’t know. Sometimes it just happens because all the stars align,” Herdman said of the team’s turnaround. “That could be this season. You never know.”


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