TORONTO — Italian star Federico Bernardeschi is back in the fold after being benched by Toronto FC coach Bob Bradley for Saturday's 2-1 win over visiting D.C. United.
Bradley opted to sit Bernardeschi out in the wake of the Italian's critical comments of Toronto's style of play following a 1-0 loss at Austin FC.
"We had discussions last week. A lot of work went on the inside with the group," Bradley said after training Tuesday. "It was all geared, aimed towards the idea that he would be back with the group this week and that's the case."
Bernardeschi, who leads Toronto in goals (three), shots (34) and shots on goal (14) this season, was back on the training field Tuesday. The club did not make him available to reporters.
Toronto (3-5-7) looks to put a tumultuous week behind it and build on the weekend win as the Chicago Fire (3-4-7) come to town Wednesday.
Bradley said Bernardeschi will be in the matchday squad but stopped short of saying he would start. The Italian had started every game this season before Saturday.
Asked if last week was behind the team, Bradley replied: "Yeah. You work hard. You look at things. You talk through things. Challenge guys. Move on."
Against D.C., Toronto played like a team that had something to prove. Bradley said the performance followed plenty of one-on-one discussions within the club last week.
"What I tried to get across to different guys was that, whether it's in football or in life, you can have a moment where all of a sudden things start flying around you and you've got to find your way in that moment to be real and be yourself," Bradley said. "And I wanted every guy to go on the field and play with confidence and personality and every guy to try to have a big game and be the best guy on the field.
"Sometimes as a coach you focus more on talking about what the group needs to do. But last week, given everything that went on, I felt it was important to talk one-on-one to a lot of guys and really remind them and challenge and encourage them to go on the field and just go for it."
The message appeared to get through, according to Toronto forward CJ Sapong.
"Looking into the eyes of my teammates in the huddle on the field, there was a determination and focus that to me just showed that there was a clicking within everybody individually," he said.
The rift between Bernardeschi and the club produced a stream of unfavourable stories about what's going on behind the scenes.
Bradley had little to say on the matter.
"There's a lot of gossip. It's hard to comment on gossip," he said.
But he said the Italians have always been treated the same as everyone else.
"One of the things that you always try to do is to make sure you hold all your players accountable, your biggest players accountable," he said. "That's important. And I've told both of them in different moments that if I stop training and make a point and they're not used to that, that you can't just coach the young guys. You've got to coach your big players You've got to find ways to challenge them."
"I also believe I'm always positive about what they bring to the team and take responsibility to get the best out of them and stuff like that," the coach added. "That's the work that goes on all the time."
Wednesday's game features the two highest-paid players in Major League Soccer, according to the MLS Players Association, in Chicago's Xherdan Shaqiri (US$8.15 million) and Toronto's Lorenzo Insigne (US$7.5 million).
Shaqiri has assists in four of Chicago's last five games. Insigne set up both Toronto goals in Saturday's win.
"He showed us what he can do. He showed us what he is here to do," Sapong, referencing Insigne. "But I don't think any of us were surprised."
Toronto has won just two of its last 12 games (2-5-5) in all competitions. But despite its 14th-place position in the Eastern Conference, it has lost just one of eight home games (3-1-4) this season. The road has been a different story, with TFC winless in seven outings (0-4-3).
Chicago blew a 2-0 lead last time out at New England, having to settle for a 3-3 tie after conceding an 83rd-minute goal to former Toronto striker Jozy Altidore off a corner. But it has lost just once in six games in all competitions (3-1-2) since parting ways with coach Ezra Henrickson on May 8.
Former Montreal coach Frank Klopas, named Chicago's coach for the duration of the season, is seeing a lot of goals. The Fire have scored eight and conceded six in its last three matches (1-0-2) in all competitions.
Teenage forward Georgios Koutsias (pronounced KOO-tsee-as) scored in both the recent 3-3 ties with New England and Atlanta. The 19-year-old joined Chicago in February from Greece's PAOK FC.
Defender Shane O'Neill, midfielders Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Alonso Coello and Victor Vazquez and forward Adama Diomande are listed as out for Toronto.
Bob Bradley said defender Sigurd Rosted and midfielder Brandon Servania will both be available Wednesday.
Toronto has not lost to Chicago at BMO Field in 11 straight games (7-0-4) dating back to 2013. It's TFC's longest home unbeaten run against a single opponent in club history.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press