Disgruntled Italian Federico Bernardeschi was benched for TFC’s match against DC United

Toronto FC’s disappointing season got a lot more complicated off the pitch with the news that disgruntled Italian star Federico Bernardeschi has been benched for Saturday’s game against DC United.

Toronto FC’s disappointing season got a lot more complicated off the pitch with the news that disgruntled Italian star Federico Bernardeschi has been benched for Saturday’s game against DC United.

Coach Bob Bradley denied that the move was disciplinary, calling it a “coach’s decision.”

“Fede will not be in the squad for this game. A lot happened this week, a lot of internal discussions… When you think about preparing a group for this game, we felt that this was the best way to handle it,” he said. reporters after training on Friday.

“There are ongoing discussions about how we are going to continue to work together,” he added.

Toronto (2-5-7) is mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. And it’s been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week in the wake of Bernardeschi’s unflattering comments about the team’s style of play following last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Austin FC.

Bernardeschi, who has not scored in nine games, launched a bombshell in a virtual availability with journalists after the loss in injury time.

“We don’t play,” the Italian said in English. “We played a long pass. We have no idea how to play.”

“I think this city, the fans, everyone, they don’t deserve this,” he added. “And I think maybe we need to change something. We need a little more tactics. We need an idea of ​​how we play, because this is the real problem for me. It’s impossible to play like that when we play without (an) idea.” .”

Bradley, in his first public comments on the outburst, said Tuesday that Bernardeschi was “out of character.” On Friday, the three-time MLS coach of the year revealed that Bernardeschi, who was not on the field for the media portion of practice, would not play over the weekend.

But Bradley said Bernardeschi’s future at the club was not in doubt.

“I think the plan is for sure Fede comes back (next week) and we put this week behind us and we all move on,” he said.

Bradley chose his words carefully and tried to minimize the break up.

“He and I had a good discussion today. I think we’re both on the same page and excited to continue working together,” he said.

Bradley clearly wanted the conversation back to football. It’s not like him to air dirty laundry in public. But clearly there are issues in the land of TFC with different camps offering different stories.

Bradley has said for months that turning the team around will take time, hinting at a tangled web that has had to be worked out behind the scenes in terms of the salary-cap budget. He has also said that the Italians are not used to playing in a league with salary restrictions, which often means the next player is a youngster who is not a decorated international.

Fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne, No. 2 on the MLS salary list with $7.5 million, rarely speaks to the media and always with an interpreter when he does. His body language on the pitch often exudes frustration, though the Rolls-Royce in the parking lot is likely to offer a smooth drive from the Toronto training center.

Considering Bernardeschi is the team’s top scorer with three goals and three assists this season, not to mention the fourth highest-paid player in the league at $6.295 million, leaving the Italian on the bench is quite the statement.

Especially when Toronto has won just once in its last 11 games (1-5-5) in all competitions and suffered four straight league shutouts. Toronto’s goalless drought is 404 minutes, dating back to CJ Sapong’s goal on April 29 in a 1-0 win over visiting New York City FC.

Toronto took just three shots, none on target, last week in Austin.

The turmoil in Toronto has not gone unnoticed.

“It’s weird,” DC United coach Wayne Rooney said Thursday when asked about TFC’s season. “The main focus in the game on Saturday is us, to be honest. Because Toronto, as you said, is not having a great time. I think it’s clear that there has been a bit of wear and tear among the players. and maybe personal.

“So we don’t know where that is. We don’t know which players are going to play. We don’t know how they’re going to play, if I’m completely honest with you. So the main focus is on ourselves and making sure we do our job well and get in there with the right mindset to try and win the game.

“We have to be very cautious because Toronto has some really good players who can hurt you. And at any time, those players can hurt you and win the game for Toronto.”

Wins have been hard to come by for Toronto this season. Injuries and a lack of depth have cost Bradley’s team.

DC is coming off a 3-0 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, with all three goals between minutes 71 and 80. Rooney’s team have lost just once in their last seven league outings (4-1-2). with the 14 points accumulated being tied with Philadelphia and Nashville in MLS since the streak began in mid-April.

Both DC and Toronto have been dealing with injury issues, but are slowly getting some players back.

DC was missing eight players last week, while Toronto was without 10 players due to injury or suspension.

Defenders Sigurd Rosted and Shane O’Neill, midfielders Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Alonso Coello and Víctor Vázquez, and forwards Adama Diomande were all listed as out of injury for Toronto. Forward Deandre Kerr was listed as questionable, going through concussion protocols.

But Insigne, who didn’t make the trip to Austin because of a foot problem, returned to training this week. And midfielder/forward Jahkeele Marshall Rutty is also available after serving a two-game suspension.

Rooney said forward Taxi Fountas, centre-back Steven Birnbaum and full-backs Andy Najar and Pedro Santos will be available on Saturday after absences with injuries.

The two teams met on February 25 in the season opener at Audi Field with DC coming together to win 3-2 on goals in the 90th and 98th minute.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press