Italian DPs top list of Toronto FC players who must step in 2024

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi have to start consistently producing if TFC are going to turn things around this season.

Italian DPs top list of Toronto FC players who must step in 2024
TFC Republic is on a free trial this week, so please enjoy this story and many more that will come out from behind the paywall until Sunday, Feb. 25.

You can subscribe to TFC Republic by CLICKING HERE, or by clicking on the subscribe button on the home page. A monthly subscription costs just $8, while a yearly subscription is $50 (a savings of 48%).

Toronto FC made headlines during the 2024 MLS season for all the wrong reasons.

TFC went through three different coaches during a disastrous campaign that saw them set franchise records for the fewest wins (four) and points (22) in a single MLS season en route to a last place finish and a third consecutive year without making the playoffs.

It's difficult to envision the Reds getting any worse in 2024 and you have to believe that things can only get better for the club. But in order for that to happen, five players* in particular must step up in a big way this season.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi*

Let's not beat around the bush: Both Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi have fallen well short of being impact figures in MLS, never mind being impact Designated Players. 

Insigne ($15.4 million US) and Federico Bernardeschi ($6.29 million) were among the highest paid stars in the league last year. Yet, they only managed to combine for a modest nine goals and nine assists in 51 MLS games in 2024. Neither of the Italians scored off a set piece, and neither one of them bagged a game winning goal. At one point, Bernardeschi went 17 matches in all competitions without a goal. 

To put their poor offensive output into context, consider this: second-year pro Deandre Kerr finished tied with the Italians as the club's top scorer in all competitions with five goals. That should be a source of embarrassment for the high-priced DPs. The bottom line is this: They have to start consistently producing on the attacking end. Otherwise, the Reds are doomed in 2024.

Last month, John Herdman revealed that a player leadership group was formed prior to the start of pre-season training camp. The group includes Insigne and Bernardeschi, captain Jonathan Osorio, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and defender Shane O'Neill.    

The inclusion of the Italians raised eyebrows as we saw little evidence of them showing leadership on the pitch during the Reds’ disastrous 2023 MLS season. At times, the body language of both Insigne and Bernardeschi during games suggested a lack of commitment on their part bordering on complete disinterest and indifference. But Herdman maintains that they have been in the right headspace during pre-season training camp.   

“Their behaviour, their communication, their posture, everything is showing they’re fully committed. They’re showing passion and commitment. They’ve really taken on the leadership responsibility; I can’t emphasize that enough. They’re leading,” Herdman stated

(* The Italian DPs are two separate players, but they are inextricably linked together as one in the minds of TFC fans since their arrival in MLS in 2022).

Herdman has high hopes for TFC’s Marshall-Rutty in 2024
Toronto FC’s new coach sees great potential in the youth academy graduate. But it’s going to take a bit more time, he cautioned.

Jonathan Osorio

It's not as though Jonathan Osorio has suffered a loss of form or anything like that. TFC's all-time appearance leader has been a model of consistency for the Reds over the years, through the highs and lows, even as he's dealt with injury problems. 

Last season the Canadian international scored four goals and tallied six assists in just 21 MLS appearances as he missed time due a series of ailments. The previous year he bagged nine goals (one off his career-high) and tallied another six assists. So, he's been putting up pretty decent numbers. 

But considering how difficult the Reds found it to score last season, Osorio needs to produce a bit more in the final third of the pitch this year, especially after management didn't bring in any new forwards this off-season to bolster the attack. 

What's more, Osorio is now the captain of Toronto FC, succeeding Michael Bradley. He has to set the tone in the locker room and on the pitch at all times and hold everybody to account and help maintain standards like Bradley famously did.

Osorio has been TFC's captain in the making for quite some time now. Now it's for real and the beginning of his captaincy comes at a crucial time for the embattled franchise. They need his leadership now more than ever.

"Jonathan is a very special person at this club. You only have to see his connection with kitchen staff, the equipment people, down to the kids at the [youth] academy who look up to him as that player that went all the way for the club to a championship. He's waited patiently, he's built the experiences and he's ready. ... He's ready to take on this big responsibility and he's excited for it," John Herdman said

Transaction tracker: TFC signs veteran defender Kevin Long
In desperate need of defensive reinforcements, Toronto FC looked across the pond and plucked the Irishman from Birmingham City.

Shane O'Neill

Let's not sugarcoat things: Toronto FC has consistently had one of the worst back lines in MLS over the last three seasons. The Reds conceded a franchise-high 66 goals in both the 2021 and 2022 campaigns and they followed that up by giving up 59 goals in 2023, which was the second worst defensive record in MLS. Incredibly, TFC conceded 17 consecutive times (a club record) in all competitions from June 24 to August 26. 

Toronto's centre backs didn't wrap themselves in glory last year. Matt Hedges came in but didn't even last the entire season. Aimé Mabika proved to be such a liability that Michael Bradley often started at centre back ahead of him. Sigurd Rosted didn't live up to expectations as a TAM player. Luke Singh was sent on loan to the CPL. Shane O'Neill suffered through injuries and uneven form. 

The only defensive addition made by the Reds this off-season was the signing of Irish centre back Kevin Long. What that means is that TFC's holdover central defenders will have to come good this year, especially O'Neill. 

O’Neill, 30, is a league veteran having played in 167 MLS regular season and playoff games since making his debut for the Colorado Rapids in 2012. John Herdman thought so much of O'Neill that he named the centre back to his player leadership group. The Reds need O'Neill to be a leader and act as a quarterback in the back line. 

"I don’t think I’m a finished product as a leader but I’m excited to continue to grow in this role," O'Neill told TFC Republic


TFC Republic subscribers can get up to a 25% discount on ticket prices for Toronto FC home games.

To receive the special promo code, email me at

(Please don't share promo code with non-TFC Republic subscribers).

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty

After undergoing a knee operation that derailed his 2022 campaign, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty rebounded last year by posting career highs in a single MLS season for appearances (22), starts (11) and minutes (1,146) – that's more minutes he played combined in the previous two campaigns.    

Still only 19, the former youth academy graduate is rightly considered one of Toronto's brightest prospects. Noted for his quickness and speed off the dribble to unbalance opposing defenders, the young winger has the ability to influence games with a moment of brilliance.  

The problem is that those moments haven't lead to tangible results. Since making his MLS debut as a 16-year-old in 2020, the native of Brampton, Ont., has tallied just two assists and has yet to score a single goal in 51 league appearances. 

Toronto's offence sputtered last year and with no attacking reinforcements brought in this off-season (with the exception of top draft pick Tyrese Spicer), coach John Herdman needs all hands on deck when it comes to creating chances and goal scoring. Marshall-Rutty has to become a more decisive player in the final third of the pitch this year in order to help improve the club's attacking fortunes. 

“I hope to see a better season from him, a more confident and more aggressive season this year than we did last year. I think he was a little bit gun shy last year and we're really encouraging him to be more aggressive and be ready to get fans out of their seats at the right time,” Herdman stated.   

Ayo Akinola

TFC's scoring problems last season have been well documented, but in case you need reminding, here's the key stat: The Reds scored a paltry 26 goals in 34 MLS games in 2023, tied with the Colorado Rapids for the worst offensive record in the league. Incredibly, Toronto's forwards combined for just six goals with Deandre Kerr accounting for five of them.

Bringing in a new striker who is a proven goalscorer and can play between the Italian DPs was one of the club's main off-season objectives, but that wasn't achieved. Instead, Toronto will go into the 2024 campaign with the same crop of forwards as last year, minus the departed C.J. Sapong.

Kerr will likely get the start on opening day for the Reds, but it'll be Ayo Akinola who'll have a lot of pressure resting on his shoulders this season. The Canadian international has only scored twice in his previous 40 MLS appearances for TFC, with his last goal coming in 2022. A loan spell with the San Jose Earthquakes last season didn't light a spark under Akinola, who is going into the last year of his current deal with the Reds. If he wants a new contract, he has to produce in 2024 and help get TFC's attack back on track.

"I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: The last two or three years were really poor for me. Really, really poor. I’m just being honest. Just me being transparent with you, the last two or three years have not gone well for me. It’s on my part. It’s self-inflicted. It’s on me," Akinola told TFC Republic.

(Top photo courtesy of Raul Romero Jr/Toronto FC)

TFC Republic has a comments section! At the very bottom of every story, there is a feature where you can post your comments, so be sure to share your thoughts and views.