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Bernardeschi returns to Toronto FC lineup in 0-0 draw with Chicago Fire

Toronto FC forward Federico Bernardeschi (10) shoots on Chicago Fire goalkeeper Chris Brady (34) as Kendall Burks (27) and Rafael Czichos (5) defend during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Momentum and wins are proving hard to come by for Toronto FC this season.

Toronto (3-5-8) had looked like a team with something to prove Saturday when it emerged from a week of turmoil to defeat D.C. United 2-1 without disgruntled winger Federico Bernardeschi. 

The benched Italian star was back in the lineup Wednesday as TFC, unable to convert its chances, settled for a scoreless draw with the Chicago Fire.

Toronto carried a 19-4 edge in shots (7-1 in shots on target), but couldn't take advantage.

Five of TFC's shots on target were in a first half that had the Fire going to its backup goalkeeper. Chris Brady was left dazed and bleeding in a collision with Deandre Kerr

"We created a lot of chances, especially in the first half," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "We needed to get a goal, for sure, by halftime . . . tonight's a night where you have enough chances to win.

"It's a frustrating night if you create that many chances, don't give too much away, and can't take three points," he added.

Chicago (3-4-8) sat back in the second half to play a more defensive game.

Toronto has used a No. 9-by-committee approach this season with Adama Diomande rarely healthy and Kerr, CJ Sapong, Ayo Akinola and Jordan Perruzza all getting time up front.

"We had the run early in the year last year, the first half of the year, where (the since departed) Jesus (Jimenez) scored goals," Bradley said. 

"And then from that moment on, regardless of who we played, we've not got good production from the (No.) 9. We've tried different things."

Bernardeschi was benched after criticizing the team's tactics following a 1-0 loss in Austin on May 20. But he returned to the fold this week and was greeted by cheers and a smattering of boos during Wednesday's pre-game introductions at BMO Field. 

Bradley, in contrast, was booed loudly for the second straight home game.

Bernardeschi beat plenty of Fire defenders on the evening and also showed some effort in the defensive end, which is not his forte. He exited to applause in the 85th minute, shaking hands with Bradley as he reached the bench.

The club did not make Bernardeschi available after the game. But fullback Richie Laryea, who had another excellent game, said it's back to business as usual at the club.

"He's back to normal," Laryea said of Bernardeschi. "He's a professional. He's played this game long enough. He's done what he's done. Now he's come back into the group in a really good way and everyone's just trying to truck along in the right direction."

"These things happen in sports," he added.

Bernardeschi drew more cheers in the 23rd minute when, after taking a long ball from Kosi Thompson, he beat two defenders to force an acrobatic save from Brady.

Minutes later, the 19-year-old Chicago 'keeper made another fine stop to deny Thompson only to be injured trying to corral the rebound when his head connected with Kerr's knee. 

Brady was replaced by backup Spencer Richey, a former Vancouver Whitecap, in the 30th minute.

Toronto has won just two of its last 13 games (2-5-6) in all competitions. 

Despite its lowly position ranking of 13th in the Eastern Conference, Toronto was just three points out of a playoff position.

TFC has lost just one of nine home games (3-1-5) this season, but is winless on the road (0-4-3).

The Fire came into Wednesday's game having 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 has been put in charge of Chicago for the duration of the season.

Wednesday's game featured the two highest-paid players in the league, according to the MLS Players Association, in Chicago's Xherdan Shaqiri (US$8.15 million this season) and Toronto's Lorenzo Insigne (US$7.5 million).

Shaqiri had assists in four of Chicago's previous five games. Insigne set up both Toronto goals in Saturday's win.

Thompson, who scored against D.C, and Bernardeschi came into the TFC starting lineup for Brandon Servania and Sapong. There were six Canadians in TFC's starting 11.

Toronto was without injured defender Shane O'Neill, midfielders Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Alonso Coello and Victor Vazquez and Diomande.

Toronto has not lost to Chicago at BMO Field in 12 straight games (7-0-5) dating back to 2013. That's TFC's longest home unbeaten run against a single opponent in club history.

TFC plays at Minnesota United on Saturday.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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