Federico Bernardeschi scores memorable goal, but Toronto FC has to settle for draw

·5 min read

TORONTO — The learning curve continues for Toronto FC. Wins are still in short supply, however.

TFC squandered a two-goal lead — and a memorable opening goal by Italian star Federico Bernardeschi — and had to settle for a 2-2 tie Saturday with Charlotte FC on a night where the wind caused havoc at BMO Field.

Toronto (1-1-4) has not lost since coughing up two late goals in the season-opening 3-2 defeat at D.C. United, extending its unbeaten Major League Soccer run to five games (1-0-4).

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But the post-game feeling was disappointment after allowing Charlotte (1-3-2), a team that had earned just 14 out of a possible 57 points on the road in its brief league history before Saturday, back into the contest.

"Conditions were tough," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "But still in the end, after being ahead 2-0, we let them back into the game too easily. … We let ourselves down in that regard."

Polish international Kamil Jozwiak set up one goal and scored another to key Charlotte's second-half surge, helped by a stiff wind at its back at the lakefront stadium.

"We had the belief that we could go out and get the game back, at least a point," said Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio, a native of Italy.

It was a windy, damp 3 Celsius at kickoff Saturday, feeling like minus-three for the announced crowd of 22,801 at BMO Field. And every one of the night's 17 corners was an adventure.

The wind played a role in the first goal, which came in the sixth minute from a Bernardeschi corner that went in without being touched. The Italian's soaring delivery curled over goalkeeper George Marks' outstretched hand into the far corner for his third goal of the season.

It's believed to be TFC's first-ever "Olimpico," a name that originates from a goal scored by Argentina's Cesareo Onzari against reigning Olympic champion Uruguay from a corner kick in 1924

"His left foot's up there with the best in the world," Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson said of Bernardeschi.

The charismatic Italian admitted after the game that his emotions were split.

"I'm happy about the goal, but I'm a little bit frustrated for the result," he said in English.

Asked if he intended to score off the corner, Bernardeschi smiled. "I tried to shoot in the goal and I'm a little bit a lucky man."

Toronto's Brandon Servania seemed to have delivered a carbon copy of Bernardeschi's goal off a corner from the other side in the 40th minute but the play was waved off for a foul on Marks.

Michael Bradley used his head to score off another Servania corner — TFC's eighth of the first half — in the 44th minute, a goal that survived video review.

Ben Bender pulled one back for Charlotte in the 51st minute, coming in late into the penalty box to slot home a fine cross by Jozwiak. It was the first goal Johnson had conceded in 246 minutes — and Charlotte's first-ever goal against TFC.

And Jozwiak tied it up in the 70th minute, beating Richie Laryea to knock home a Kerwin Vargas cross for his first MLS goal.

Bernardeschi had a chance to restore the TFC lead in the 83rd minute but a desperate tackle by French defender Adilson Malanda saved the day for Charlotte. At the other end, Toronto defender Matt Hedges had to make a key clearance in stoppage time.

Bernardeschi is no stranger to breaking Charlotte hearts.

He scored one goal and set up another and fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne collected a stylish assist in a 4-0 romp over then-expansion Charlotte in their MLS debut last July. Bradley scored twice that night.

That win marked the start of Toronto's best spell of the 2022 season — an eight-game league run that saw the team go 4-1-3 (including a 2-0 win in Charlotte that featured goals from both Insigne and Bernardeschi).

Insigne has not playing since hobbling off the field 34 minutes into the Feb. 25 loss at D.C. United. But Bernardeschi remains a force on the field.

Bernardeschi has been involved in 16 of TFC’s 30 goals (11 goals and five assists) dating back to that July win over Charlotte. He had contributed to 10 of the club's last 17 goals (seven goals and three assists) going back to the Aug. 27 victory at Charlotte.

The 29-year-old Italian has accounted for three of Toronto's eight goals this season, also registering two assists.

Both teams had injury concerns.

In addition to Insigne, veteran striker Adama Diomande (hamstring) and fullback Cristian Gutierrez (non-COVID illness) were also missing for Toronto.

Back from international duty with Canada, Laryea, midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye and Ayo Akinola made the Toronto starting 11. Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, 18, retained his spot in the team with fullback Raoul Petretta, who did not play the second half of last weekend's 0-0 draw in San Jose, starting on the bench.

Charlotte was hurting in midfield without injured captain Ashley Westwood and the suspended Brandt Bronico.

Forward Karol Swiderski, one of Charlotte's designated players, came in off the bench at the hour-mark. He scored for Poland in a 1-0 win over Albania in a Euro 2024 qualifier during the recent FIFA international window.

Charlotte is now unbeaten in three (1-0-2) after rocky start. It opened the season with losses to New England (1-0), St. Louis City (3-1) and Atlanta (3-0) before rebounding to win 2-1 at Orlando and tie the visiting Red Bulls 1-1.

Toronto visits Nashville next Saturday.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press