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Led by Herdman, resurgent TFC putting recent dismal past behind it

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Toronto FC's bid under John Herdman to put its recent dismal past behind it took a step forward Saturday with a lopsided 5-1 win over CF Montreal.

Victories over TFC's archrival are always welcome, especially if they are emphatic.

But Saturday's romp improved Toronto's record to 7-6-1, good for 22 points which matched the club's entire total last season when it finished last in MLS at 4-20-10. And this year's team achieved that with 20 regular-season outings remaining (with 60 points still on the table).

Whether that's a statement of how bad last year's squad was or how good this one is remains to be seen.

"I forgot about (last season), honestly," Italian star Federico Bernardeschi, Saturday's hat-trick hero, said in English. "I don't want to speak about last season."

"I'm just proud of them. They put a hell of a shift in," Herdman said of his players.

Injury-ravaged Montreal, missing eight players, served up a dose of 2023 TFC with some horrible defending, however

Toronto went ahead in the sixth minute with a deft Lorenzo Insigne pass finding Tyrese Spicer behind the defence on the left flank. The rookie wingback threaded a cross between goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois and Joel Waterman to an open Matty Longstaff with an empty goal in front of him.

Bernardeschi made it 2-0 in the 13th minute, taking a long pass from Deybi Flores with nary a defender in sight before roofing a left-footed rocket.

Prince Owusu added to the lead in the 19th minute as Montreal was punished for attempting to play the ball out of the back. Waterman tried to find Mathieu Choiniere with a pass that the midfielder was unable to coral in the penalty box. The ball went instead to Insigne, who fed Owusu in front for his sixth goal of the season.

"We lost balls in areas that were very dangerous for us," said Sirois, pointing to something Toronto has done time and time again in recent seasons.

Montreal (3-7-3) has now lost four straight in league play and won just one of its last 11 (1-7-3) in all competitions. And most worrying it has conceded 31 goals in 13 games — 15 in its last four league outings alone.

A troubled Waterman said he was "running out of answers."

"I still believe in the process, still believe in what we're trying to do fully," he said. "But you can't teach intensity, you can't teach desire and you can't teach competitiveness. so we're lacking in a lot of those areas and I don't know why. If you can't get motivated for a game like this, I don't know.

"It's definitely embarrassing, definitely something that we never want to do again."

Down 5-0, Sunusi Ibrahim pulled one back for Montreal in the 67th minute.

Waterman defended first-year Montreal coach Laurent Courtois.

"It's not his fault," he said. "It's not up to him to motivate us. It's up to him to coach us and he's been doing a hell of a job of doing that. … I still trust in his plan wholeheartedly. I know the guys do too."

The stylish Bernardeschi, sporting new bleached cornrows, scored in the 12th, 58th and 60th minutes before a jubilant announced crowd of 28,261 at BMO Field.

The Italian has now scored seven goals in his last four games after being blanked for 19 outings. Insigne, captaining the side in his first start since March 23, had a pair of assists while Owusu has six goals in his last seven games in all competitions.

The attacking trio started together for the first time since March 16.

"We knew we had a lot of quality on the pitch," said Herdman, who has managed to get all his players pulling in the right direction unlike the recent past.

Bernardeschi, who admitted his second goal on the night was an attempted cross, agreed when asked how much damage his club could do if it stays healthy.

"A lot … If we are all together we are a great team honestly," he said.

Bernardeschi has now been involved in 10 of Toronto’s last 15 goals, scoring seven himself and assisting on three others in MLS and Canadian Championship play.

The Italians, whose combined pay this season is US$21.7 million, had the honour of leading the post-game Viking Clap, banging the drum in front of the fervent fans in the south stand.

And while the victory was complete, there were some TFC stumbles on the night.

Bernardeschi picked up a needless caution in the 91st minute, triggering a one-game ban for yellow card accumulation. And Norwegian defender Sigurd Rosted's decision to wear a "FCK MTL" T-shirt in the post-game celebrations was ill-advised.

Is that the way a class outfit celebrates, Herdman was asked after the game?

"No it isn't. It's not the way we want to be seen, that's for sure," the coach said.

Toronto was missing the injured Jonathan Osorio, Kevin Long, Shane O'Neill and Brandon Servania. In an 'only-in-MLS' situation, Richie Laryea managed to be both injured and suspended.

Montreal had five Canadians in its starting lineup compared to none for Toronto.

Herdman had Osorio, a hometown boy, address the team pre-game about the significance of the Montreal derby.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2024