TORONTO - Lorenzo Insigne's spectacular long-range strike in the 80th minute gave Toronto FC a 1-0 win over Charlotte FC in its home opener Saturday.

It was a trademark Insigne goal. The Italian star came off the left flank and kept moving until he had a clear shot at goal, roofing a rocket past diving goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.

TFC (2-0-1) has scored just two goals this season, both game-winners for Insigne who came off to a standing ovation in the 87th minute.

Toronto, which finished last in the league last season at 4-20-10 while giving up a whopping 59 goals, has been rock-solid in its defence so far this year under coach John Herdman. Toronto has yet to concede a goal three games into the MLS season.

Backup goalkeeper Luka Gavran recorded the clean sheet Saturday.

Gavran made his fifth career start after starter Sean Johnson, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts, was an unexpected absentee. A club spokesman said Johnson had felt something after training that needed to be assessed.

Scoring chances were few and far between on a damp afternoon in front of 26,345 fans at BMO Field. Charlotte (1-1-1) was well organized and Toronto lacked teeth up front. Charlotte didn't offer much either in attack.

Jonathan Osorio started up front for Toronto, flanked by Insigne and fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi. While Toronto had 63.1 per cent possession in the first half, it managed just one shot on target before the break.

The game came 11 years to the day that a 20-year-old Osorio made his MLS debut for Toronto. Osorio led his hometown club out Saturday, marking a club-record game No. 300 in MLS regular-season and playoff action.

Osorio, normally a midfielder, leads the club in appearances at 344 in all competitions while ranking third in goals at 62 (behind Sebastian Giovinco's 83 and Jozy Altidore's 79) and second in assists at 50 (behind Giovinco's 52).

The game was also a milestone 50th for TFC in all competitions for Bernardeschi. He and Insigne made their club debut July 23, 2022, in the club's first-ever meeting with Charlotte - a 4-0 Toronto win thanks to two goals by Michael Bradley and one each from Bernardeschi and Osorio.

Apart from Johnson, the only other Toronto change saw defender Nicksoen Gomis return to the lineup at the expense of forward Prince Owusu.

Toronto was also missing injured forward Deandre Kerr and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea (thigh).

Charlotte coach Dean Smith, formerly of Leicester City and Aston Villa among other English clubs, went with the same lineup for the third game in a row. Former Canada captain Scott Arfield came off the Charlotte bench in the 71st minute.

It was eight degrees Celsius, feeling like five, for the early afternoon kickoff.

The visitors came close in the sixth minute but Junior Urso's header off a corner flashed just wide.

Referee Chris Grabas, on the advice of the video assistant referee, went to the pitchside monitor to review a play that saw Charlotte forward Enzo Copetti go down in contact with Gavran in the Toronto penalty box. But the replay seemed to show a sliding Gavran got his foot to the ball before making contact with Copetti and Grabas kept with his original no-call.

Gavran made a fine save to deny Copetti in the 39th minute after a nifty turn by the Argentine designated player took defender Kevin Long out of the equation.

Toronto centre back Kevin Long was replaced by Sigurd Rosted at halftime.

Kahlina stopped a low Bernardeschi shot in the 61st minute. Seconds later Matty Longstaff, a former Newcastle United midfielder making his TFC debut, and Owusu came on.

Coming into play Saturday, Charlotte's record since entering the league in 2022 was 24-29-17. Toronto was 14-38-18 over the same period.

TFC kicked off the season with a scoreless draw at Cincinnati and a 1-0 win at New England, matching its road points total of 2023 when it went 0-13-4 away from home.

Charlotte defeated visiting New York City FC 1-0 before a bumper crowd of 62,291 at Bank of America Stadium before drawing 1-1 last week at Vancouver.

Toronto, whose last home win was a 2-1 decision over Philadelphia on Aug. 30, came into Saturday's game with an 8-6-3 record in home openers - with clean sheets in five of the eight wins.

TFC visits Yankee Stadium to take on NYCFC next Saturday while Charlotte visits Nashville SC.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2024