Sun. Aug 14th, 2022

TORONTO – Lorenzo Insigne may hog the headlines, but fellow Italian Domenico Criscito is expected to play a key role of his own with Toronto FC.

The 35-year-old is being counted on to help bolster a Toronto FC defense that currently ranks 27th in the 28-team MLS, conceding 1.88 goals a game on average.

“On the field, off the field, Mimmo is a pro and carries himself in an excellent way,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. “And already you can say he’s a good guy to work with.”

Bradley said Criscito will be available Saturday when Toronto (5-10-3) hosts the San Jose Earthquakes (4-7-6).

Insigne and Criscito have been waiting for Thursday’s opening of MLS’s secondary transfer window, which allows them to take the field. But fans will have to wait to see the 31-year-old Insigne, with Bradley saying a calf injury will likely keep him off the field until July 23 when Charlotte FC visits.

Criscito, who can play left back and center back, arrives with an extensive resume, having represented Italy 26 times. At club level, he spent the last 15 seasons at Italy’s Genoa and Russia’s Zenit, making a combined 498 appearances with 50 goals in top European competitions.

“Certainly with my experience and knowledge I think I can help the defense,” Criscito said through an interpreter Wednesday as he met with the Toronto media for the first time.

Criscito said talks with Toronto started in March but were put on hold with Genoa going through a tough time.

“And because I was the captain, I did not feel like it was the right time for me to leave,” he said. “But at the end of the season, we reopened the talks and actually the signing of the contract was pretty quick. And I’m happy about it. ”

Genoa was relegated to Italy’s second tier in May after 15 years in Serie A. Criscito returned to Genoa in 2018 following seven years in Russia with Zenit.

Toronto FC president Bill Manning, left, poses for a photo with newly signed Italian defender Domenico Criscito as he meets the media for the first time as a Toronto FC player, in Toronto, Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

“It’s been, certainly, a difficult decision because I’ve been with Genoa since I was 15 years old,” Criscito said of leaving his Italian team. “My wife is from Genoa. My kids were born in Genoa. So my whole life has been in Genoa basically.

“But when TFC called, I took the chance. It’s a great team. So I can not wait to start with it. ”

Criscito and Insigne are friends, a fact that helped Criscito make the decision to come to North America.

“We’ve known each other and our families have known each other for a long time now,” Criscito said.

Criscito’s arrival comes against a backdrop of more moves with Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo on the way to Inter Miami CF to make room for another big-name import, expected to be former Juventus attacking midfielder Federico Bernardeschi.

Criscito was signed June 29 using targeted allocation money, which allows MLS clubs to sign elite talent without a reduced salary cap hit or using designated player status.

Toronto has been short at fullback this season, with Bradley looked to repurpose Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Luca Petrasso, Kosi Thompson and Jacob Shaffelburg at fullback and wingback following the off-season departures of Brazil’s Auro, Justin Morrow and Canadian Richie Laryea.

The young Canadians have had their moments, usually going forward. But the defense has been compromised at times.

“Even on days we’ve defended well, we’ve hurt ourselves with a mistake or two,” said Bradley.

With Toronto captain Michael Bradley, Bob’s son, wearing his normal No. 4, Criscito has opted for No. 44 as his jersey number.

Insigne and Criscito have both been penalty-takers for their clubs, a role that Pozuelo has occupied in the past with Toronto.

Asked which of the Italians will step up to the penalty spot when the time comes, Criscito smiled.

“I will fight with him,” he said in English.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2022.

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