“II’ve met a lot of Italians in the first week I’ve been here,” said Domenico Criscito, smiling broadly at his first quiet and business press conference as a new Toronto FC player.
The 35-year-old former Genoa and Zenit Saint Petersburg defender, who also has 26 caps for Italy, came on as a replacement for Lorenzo Insigne as part of a new Italian influx in Canada’s most successful Major League Soccer team.
These two players, plus a pending deal to sign Federico Bernardeschi, saw the football club reconnect with its deep Italian roots in his city. It is these connections that can help Toronto FC relive the most successful period to date when Italian star Sebastian Giovinco achieved legendary status as a key driver of that success.
Italian workers coming to trade in Toronto are nothing new. The city has experienced steady immigration from Italy since the 1870s with two major waves coming before the first world war, and the third coming after the second world war in the 1950s.
Toronto doesn’t quite compete with the regions of the world with the greatest Italian influence such as São Paulo, Buenos Aires and New York, but its influence is significant enough for Toronto to maintain its own Italian flavor including neighborhoods called Little Italy and Corso Italia.
When Italy won the 1982 World Cup, beating West Germany 3-1 in the final in Madrid, College Street, which runs from downtown Toronto through Little Italy to Brockton Village, saw great celebrations. Traffic stopped and the streets were packed to such an extent that fans raced across the roofs of cars. Celebrations spread to the surrounding area and a similar scene was witnessed at sports bars in Ontario.
According to the 2016 census, Italian Canadians still make up 8.3% of the greater Toronto area – a total of 484,365 people. The Woodbridge area of Vaughan boasts the highest concentration of Italian Canadians in the country with 53.5%.
Many of the early immigrants came from Italy to help build transport links, mine natural resources, and work in other industrial sectors. The late 19th century saw the migration of millions of Italians who traveled to North America for work, with many eventually settling north of the region, in Montreal as well as Toronto and Ontario.
Football itself is a sport built on human movement. Both in terms of passing and movement on the pitch, as well as growth and development of the game off it. It’s an international game that embraces different styles, cultures and powers within a single set of laws.
Toronto Italians bring their love, or rather passion, for the game they call calcio with them to Canada. The team was formed by Italian immigrants to play in the now defunct Canadian National Football League, including Toronto Italia (the league’s most successful club), Virtus Italia, nearby Oshawa Italians, and the Italian Flyers in Sudbury, Ontario, north of Lake Huron.
Although many football fans in the region support clubs with whom they have historical ties to Italy, there was always extra intrigue surrounding Toronto FC as they began to reflect the Italian diaspora in the city.
It should come as no surprise, then, that attendance at Toronto’s BMO Field stadium peaked during Giovinco’s four seasons there, passing the average of over 25,000 for the first time in 2016, and remaining above that level through 2019.
It helps that the former Juventus man is one of the best players the club, and indeed the league has ever seen. The diminutive forward won numerous accolades in his first season in Toronto in 2015, including MLS MVP, Golden Boot and Newcomer of the Year. In 2017 he helped the team win its first and to date only the MLS Cup.
That success saw them qualify for the 2018 Concacaf Champions League, where Giovinco became the top scorer and was named in the best XI of the tournament. TFC finished runners-up to Chivas Guadalajara after losing on penalties in the second leg.
Giovinco spent his prime years in football in Toronto and felt like a true world-class talent. He’s not an old player after his last payday or a young player who thrived in the league before moving on, he’s a genuine star quality at the peak of his strength.
There have been similar rumors surrounding the diminutive forward Insigne who, despite being in his early 30s, still has a lot to give at the top level in Europe. He has long been linked with a move away from Napoli but will be key for him to play for another European club. It is unthinkable, perhaps impossible, for him to play again in Italy.
Insigne had all of the one-club man advantage, so even a move to Toronto came as a surprise at first. However, in the end, the route is similar to Giovinco’s route. They even used the same agent: Andrea D’Amico.
“When they did research in Toronto and the large Italian-Canadian community, it was part of a fun story for them,” said TFC president Bill Manning of the club’s interest in Insigne and his representatives.
“This move is for his family as important as football, and that’s what helped Toronto so much. When we sign players in this market, our city and where we live is a big part of it.”
Speaking with Manning during a meeting at Café Diplomatico in Little Italy, Insigne said: “It feels like Naples, and it makes me feel at home.”
At first glance, Toronto FC is a very Canadian club, from the maple leaf on its crest to the flashy red jersey, but the Canadian red third will likely join some of the green and white in the stands where the Italian tricolor will be flown. The flag will connect with several fans as well as their new signings, one of whom could become the next Italian legend. An established Insigne could easily be the best player in MLS, just like Giovinco used to be.
Could Toronto FC’s new Italian entry mark a return to MLS glory? | Toronto FC
Source link Could Toronto FC’s new Italian entry mark a return to MLS glory? | Toronto FC