Sitting on a precarious 1-0 lead in a tightly contested quarter-final at Euro 2020 last summer, Italy was in need of another goal to give itself a bit of breathing room against top-ranked Belgium.
The Italians were looking for a moment of attacking inspiration, and it came just before halftime when Lorenzo Insigne set out on a majestic dribbling run that began inside his half, saw him cut in from the left and then curl a gorgeous shot from the edge of the penalty area into the far corner of the net that gave goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois no chance.
The Azzurri went on to defeat the Belgians, and Insigne’s thunderbolt strike stood out as one of the key goals in their march towards winning the European Championship. It was a moment of game-breaking genius from Insigne, but it was hardly a one-in-a-million type effort from the diminutive attacker. He had routinely scored such spectacular goals for hometown club Napoli in Serie A for over a decade that he earned the nickname Il Magnifico.
Toronto FC is betting big on Insigne being able to wield similar magic on the pitch in MLS after announcing Saturday that it has signed the Italian attacker to a four-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not released by the Canadian club, but according to sources TFC broke the bank to the tune of $15 million US per season in order to land the Italian. Insigne not only becomes the highest-paid player in MLS history, but he shatters the record previously held by Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he earned $7.2 million with the LA Galaxy in 2019.
To put Insigne’s wages into further context, consider the following: TFC is spending more money per year just on Insigne than 21 MLS teams spent on their entire rosters in 2021. Only six clubs — Atlanta United, Inter Miami, LAFC, LA Galaxy, New York City FC and Toronto — paid more than $15 million on overall player salaries last year.
After a disastrous 2021 campaign that saw the Reds finish in second-last place in the league standings, the club had to swing for the fences this off-season as it rebuilt its roster. The signing of Insigne to this landmark deal is a major signal of intent that the club is serious about winning and reestablishing itself among the elite sides in MLS.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) January 8, 2022
Of course, this is not the first time that TFC has looked to an Italian to help them reverse their fortunes.
The Reds were in a somewhat similar situation seven years ago when they signed Sebastian Giovinco away from Juventus in what turned out to be a transformative transfer move. The Italian striker quickly established himself in MLS, plundering 73 goals in 125 regular season and playoff games over four seasons, winning league MVP honours in 2015. The Reds had never qualified for the playoffs in their eight previous seasons, but with Giovinco at the helm they instantly went from league laughingstock to powerhouse, as they won MLS Cup in 2017 and finished runners-up the previous year.
TFC is hoping that Insigne will have the same groundbreaking effect that Giovinco had in MLS, and while comparisons between the two Italians are inevitable, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Insigne is the better player and could have a more lasting impact.
Giovinco was 27 years old when he came to MLS, while Insigne will turn 31 in June, so he had more of his career ahead of him when he signed with TFC. But Giovinco wasn’t a regular starter for Juventus or the Italian national team at the time.
Insigne, on the other hand, is widely regarded as one of the best attacking players in Italy’s Serie A, if not in all of European club soccer. He debuted for Napoli in 2010 and later became captain, and has been a fixture for his hometown club for the past decade, scoring 114 goals in all competitions, with his best Serie A season coming in 2020-21 when he bagged 19 times in Italy’s topflight. He has also been a mainstay for the Italian national team, scoring 10 goals in 53 appearances for the Azzurri since his debut in 2012, and played a major role in helping Italy win last summer’s European Championship.
Fleet of foot and a wizard with the ball at his feet, Insigne is also a threat to score from set pieces and is renowned for being a dynamic attacker who can unlock even the tightest of defences. Although left wing is his preferred position, the Italian can play in a variety of attacking positions, including as a deep-lying playmaker.
This is not a “Hollywood signing” by TFC. While David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba had more name recognition than Insigne, they came to the league on the downside of their respective careers, looking to cash in for one final payday before they entered retirement, while their MLS clubs were looking to capitalize on their brand power.
Insigne has name value, although not as much as the aforementioned trio. But what he does have over them at this stage of his career is the ability to be hugely relevant both on and off the pitch in MLS.
In essence, what Toronto FC is getting in Lorenzo Insigne is a UEFA Champions League calibre player who is still in his prime with plenty of gas left in the tank – a top European star who looks poised to take Major League Soccer by storm.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.
Canada's Denis Shapovalov is on to the fourth round of the Australian Open – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 21, 2022 7:28AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 21, 2022 6:40PM EST
MELBOURNE, Australia — Canada’s Denis Shapovalov has a spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career.
He beat Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday to set up a showdown with third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany.
The Canadian has been pushed hard at Melbourne Park, averaging three hours 37 minutes of court time per win so far.
“I’ve gotten very familiar with the ice baths the last week,” Shapovalov said with a smile in an on-court interview. “We’ve become very good friends.”
At six foot 11 and 225 pounds, Opelka is an imposing force on the court. He had a 17-10 edge in aces on the 14th-seeded Shapovalov but made 46 unforced errors.
“Early on I actually found a rhythm on his serve,” Shapovalov said. “I was able to chip quite a lot back, so I was happy with that. I think I did a really good of just taking the chances today.
“Obviously it’s really tough to get the rhythm against a guy like that so I’m super happy.”
It was the first career meeting between Shapovalov and the 23rd-seeded American. Zverev, meanwhile, has a 4-2 edge in head-to-head matchups against the Canadian.
“Hopefully I can win,” Zverev said. “It’s going to be a great match.”
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., previously reached the third round at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. The 22-year-old’s best Grand Slam performance was a semifinal showing last year at Wimbledon.
Zverev defeated Maldova’s Radu Albot 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in third-round play.
“Radu is in great form right now … 1/8I’m 3/8 happy to be through in three sets,” Zverev said.
Ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal was scheduled to play Britain’s Daniel Evans in third-round play Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.
Defense trade targets for the Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe's "soft" comment, and how many games should Petr Mrazek start the rest of the way? – MLHS Podcast Episode 38 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
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Independently owned and operated, MLHS provides thorough and wide-ranging content, varying from news, opinion and analysis, to pre-game and long-form game reviews, and a weekly feature piece entitled “Leafs Notebook.”
MLHS has been cited by: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBC News, USA Today, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, TSN, Sportsnet, Grantland, CTV News, CBSSports, The Globe & Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, Global News, Huffington Post, and many more.
Tennis-‘I’m not God! Can’t win every match’ – Osaka proud despite early exit
Naomi Osaka was at peace with herself after yet another failed attempt at defending a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and the former world number one was especially proud of the way she has managed to mould her mindset to deal with tough losses.
The former world number one crashed out from Melbourne Park after a third round loss in the deciding set tiebreaker to American Amanda Anisimova — the same stage the four-times major winner exited the U.S. Open four months back.
Following the Flushing Meadows defeat, a tearful Osaka told a news conference that she was taking a break from the sport, raising more concern about her mental health struggles that forced her to miss parts of the tennis season.
The soft spoken and self-confessed introvert declared at the start of the 2022 season that she was looking to have more fun on court and enjoy playing the sport.
“I would definitely say I’m proud of myself for this,” the Japanese player told reporters on Friday. “Though to me it didn’t feel like a short amount of time. It felt like ages ago.
“This for me is the biggest step. Even though I lost. I was really focused throughout the entire match, and I didn’t have a dip. So that’s really good. Hopefully as the season continues, I’ll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it.”
It was the fourth time that Osaka had failed to defend a Grand Slam title but on Friday she held two matchpoints against the American – something that also made her proud.
Osaka felt her defeat by 60th-ranked Anisimova showed the depth of women’s tennis.
“I fought for every point. I can’t be sad about that,” Osaka said, adding that she was yet to decide on her schedule before the WTA 1000 event in Indian Wells in March.
“I’m not God! I can’t win every match. The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude.
“Of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went. I just want to go into this year knowing that I’ll play the whole year and I’ll just have the greatest attitude ever.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)
Canada's Denis Shapovalov is on to the fourth round of the Australian Open – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
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