TORONTO — The Italian job is working out nicely for Toronto FC.
Late goals by Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi lifted Toronto to a 3-1 win over Portland in Major League Soccer play Saturday night, ending the Timbers' unbeaten run at 10 games.
TFC (8-12-5) is now unbeaten in four games (3-0-1) since the Italian duo took the field, collecting 10 of a possible 12 points with Insigne and Bernardeschi leading the way. The club had managed just eight points in its previous 14 league games (2-10-2) dating back to mid-April.
Bernardeschi (three goals and two assists) and Insigne (two goals and one assist) have been involved in eight of Toronto's last 10 goals.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley, who must have been awaiting their midseason arrival like a kid on Christmas Eve, is not surprised.
"Look, these guys bring some special qualities," he said by way of understatement.
Since their arrival, Toronto has defeated Charlotte 4-0, tied New England 0-0 and beaten Nashville 4-3 and Portland 3-1. The club has also posted its first shutout and road win of the season.
With nine games left, Toronto is not out of the playoff hunt, although there are more than a few teams between it and the playoff line in the congested Eastern Conference. And TFC is showing itself to be a prickly opponent.
The Italian tide is lifting everyone.
Jonathan Osorio opened scoring Saturday with his team-leading ninth of the season — and third in the last two games. Captain Michael Bradley, Bob's son, set up Insigne for the second time in as many games — although he did not get an assist Saturday — and had two goals himself against Charlotte.
"When you have good players, it doesn't take long for other good players to size them up," said Bob Bradley.
Fullback Richie Laryea had two assists on the night, bringing his total to three in the two games he has played since rejoining the team on loan from England's Nottingham Forest.
While Toronto dominated the game for long stretches, it appeared headed for a 1-1 draw after Portland defender Josecarlos Van Rankin's goal in the 73rd minute. Yimmi Chara sent the ball toward the penalty box and veteran playmaker Sebastian Blanco flicked it on to fellow Mexican Van Rankin, who beat Alex Bono for his first MLS goal.
Toronto had been in control of the match, pulling ahead on Osorio's goal in the 41st minute.
Insigne and Bernardeschi restored order late.
Bradley made Insigne's goal in the 79th minute, scooping the ball into the penalty box toward Insigne. His pass bounced off a defender and Insigne swung his leg, slotting it home. The goal was well deserved for Insigne, who had been dangerous all game long.
Then, after a marvellous save by Portland's Slovenian goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic on substitute Ayo Akinola, Bernardeschi scored with a curling left-footed shot in the 85th.
Toronto outshot Portland 23-3 (12-2 in shots on target) and had 56.7 per cent possession..
Toronto could have scored more on the night, coming at the Portland defence in waves on Canadian Armed Forces Night before an appreciative sellout crowd of 28,598 at BMO Field.
Ivacic was a standout, keeping the Timbers in the game until the Italian duo struck.
The Timbers (7-7-12) were coming off successive ties against Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas and had gone 4-0-6 in their previous 10 outings, making for the longest active unbeaten streak in MLS. Their last loss was May 28, a 2-1 setback at Inter Miami.
"It's painful but I think there's a lot to learn from this game," said Portland coach Giovanni Savarese.
"I believe we played a decent match," he added. "I felt that in moments not everyone was putting the same amount of work that needed to be put in. Nevertheless we were still able to defend well the majority of time and create moments offensively."
Toronto had the best chances of the first half, turning up the pressure as the game wore on. That produced a goal in the 41st minute when, after a nice give-and-go with Insigne, Laryea cut into the box, danced past defender Claudio Bravo and fed an open Osorio, who slotted the ball home for his team-leading ninth goal of the season — and fifth in six games.
The shifty Laryea, marking his return to BMO Field since returning on loan from Nottingham Forest, is a penalty waiting to happen when he enters the opposition penalty box.
Toronto outshot Portland 12-1 (6-0 in shots on target) on the first half with 57.2 per cent possession..
Portland went into weekend play in seventh spot in the Western Conference, just above the playoff line.
Toronto was 13th in the East but just four points out of the playoffs. Still, there were five teams — Orlando, Miami, New England, Charlotte and Atlanta — between TFC and seventh-place Chicago, which held down the final post-season berth.
Referee Nima Saghafi's call of the game seemed to displease both sides, with plenty of protests over both calls and non-calls.
Saturday marked the teams’ first meeting since April 2019 when the Timbers won 2-1 for the first time in six career visits (1-4-1) to BMO Field. Portland had won the last two matchups with TFC's last victory a 4-1 decision at BMO Field on Aug. 12, 2017, when Toronto topped the league in its championship season.
Only Michael Bradley, Osorio, goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and defender Chris Mavinga remain from the Toronto starters that day.
Toronto midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye missed his third straight game with a lower body injury.
Toronto hosts New England on Wednesday before visiting Inter Miami next Saturday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press