By Mike Rice.
Excitement is building in Toronto as Lorenzo Insigne becomes available to play for the Canadian side from July 9. The new signing from Serie A side Napoli could make his debut at BMO Field against San Jose Earthquakes.
A player of his quality will undoubtedly bring fans back to the stadium, eager to see the forward who was part of the Italy side that won the European Championships last year.
Toronto’s issues have not been on the offensive side of the ball, though. They have 21 goals from 15 games but have conceded 29. This is the joint worst in Major League Soccer, level with Sporting Kansas City, and something Insigne will not be able to affect.
Insigne has been one of the top left-sided forwards in Europe for years, cutting in onto his right foot he will be a torment for goalkeepers and defenders across the league. His arrival, though, may affect the minutes talented winger Jayden Nelson has been getting early on in the 2022 campaign.
Nelson has made 11 MLS starts this season and has one goal and one assist to his name so far. Like Insigne, he is a right-footed forward with a lot of pace, carries the ball well and likes to put fullbacks under pressure in 1v1 situations.
The young winger has averaged 5.86 dribbles per 90 so far this season, the same as New York City FC forward Talles Magno, and is the joint-fourth highest among left-wingers with over 600 minutes in MLS this season.
In Toronto’s Canadian Championship tie with Montreal, Nelson showed his strength of acceleration out of possession, putting the opposing defenders under immediate pressure. The start of the game saw him counter-pressing after a long ball forward to him in the first minute of the game.
He forces mistakes and finds a shooting opportunity, curling the ball low around the keeper, but his shot came off the post.
He was a key part of the build-up for the first goal, while also being a threat with his pace running in transition, and assisted the fourth goal.
It was a successful game all in all for Nelson and one in which he played on both sides of the pitch, showing his versatility.
His duels per 90 of 28.9 in MLS this season is the highest of any winger with more than 600 minutes, and comes with a 37% success rate. His hard work off the ball and pressuring of opposition defenders is a strong trait, and has seen him progress into the Canadian national team where he has made three appearances so far.
His shots per 90 statistics are a little low in comparison to players in his position, especially considering Toronto have been dangerous in attack.
With 1.69 shots per 90, Nelson does pose a goal threat, though, and learning from Insigne should help develop a more clinical style of attacking.
In the 2021/22 season for Napoli, Insigne managed 3.45 shots per 90 in a quick, counter-attacking offense, with 44.8% of his shots hitting the target. He finished his final season at Napoli with 14 goals and 11 assists, figures Nelson will no doubt be hoping for in the future as he develops at Toronto.
What Nelson does with the ball is still to be perfected. As mentioned, his shooting stats are low, as is his creativity with the ball in passing. He averaged 0.4 smart passes per 90, which is well below other wingers in the league. Paul Ariola at FC Dallas, for example, averages 1.44.
While he is not scoring or shooting too frequently, he needs to increase his creativity to ensure he is contributing more to the end product in Toronto’s attack.
The smart money suggests that Insigne will be eased in slightly having just completed a full season in Serie A. He will take some time to get familiarised with his side, although with them currently outside the playoffs, he will be expected to make an instant impact even if at first it is from the bench, or for the first 60 minutes of games.
Nelson has the ability to play either side, so it will be possible to see him and Insigne line up together, but there will be competition with Ayo Akinola pushing for more starts.
It’s the headache that head coaches want, but for Nelson, despite probably losing some first-team minutes, the chance to work with Insigne should do his development the world of good.
Head coach Bob Bradley has already made a number of changes to his formation throughout the season, looking to find the right combination to help fix the leaky defence.
Nelson’s adaptability will help ensure that he competes for time on the field, and with more clinical finishing, will be a future star for Toronto and Canada.