Does Insigne Signing for Toronto FC Mark a New MLS Era?

Toronto FC and neutral Major League Soccer (MLS) fans are in for a real treat during the second half of the 2022 season, thanks to the Canadian team pulling off a major coup in the transfer market. Italian star Lorenzo Insigne agreed to a transfer from Napoli, his boyhood club when his contract expires in July. It is a transfer that is unheard of in the MLS and one that could see soccer in the United States embark on a new and exciting journey.

The diminutive winger has signed a four-year deal taking him through to July 2026; he will be 34-years-old when his contract expires. Insigne’s salary is by far the largest ever paid to an MLS player because he is guaranteed an astonishing $15 million per year. That is a blockbuster salary in world soccer, never mind in the MLS. Zlatan Ibrahimovic earned $7.2 million annually when playing for LA Galaxy, which gives Insigne’s deal some context.

This move is groundbreaking and could mark the start of a new era for the MLS. This is not David Beckham, David Villa, or D.C. United signing Wayne Rooney during the players’ twilight years, this is a fully-fledged international star who will, without a shadow of a doubt, be the best player in the competition when he steps onto the field in a Toronto FC shirt. Persuading Insigne to head to Canada and play for a team who, according to the US sportsbooks, will be nowhere near challenging for honors during the upcoming campaign is the most ambitious transfer in the league’s history. It is a signing that validates the MLS as an elite soccer league.

Who Is Lorenzo Insigne?

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Insigne signed for Serie A outfit Napoli in 2006 when he was only 15-years-old. Napoli paid a mere €1,500 to Olimpia Sant’Arpino to secure the youngster’s services. Insigne shone for the team’s reserves and finally made his full Serie A debut during the 2009-10 season.

Still a raw talent, Insigne was sent on loan to Cavese in 2009-10, where he made ten appearances. He headed to Foggia the following season, where he played a total of 40 games and scored 26 goals. Another loan, this time to Pescara, saw Insigne score 20 goals in 38 games. Insigne was instrumental in Pescara winning the Serie B title that season.

His scintillating form between 2010-12 saw Insigne become one of the first names down on the team sheet from the 2012-13 season onwards. Napoli’s 5ft 4in winger has been almost ever-present since breaking into the first team. 2015-16 saw him score 12 goals in 37 appearances, which was the first time he scored double figures during a season.

Insigne’s form carried into the 2016-17 season, where he found the back of the net 18 times in 37 games. Last season was by far Insigne’s most productive and one that showed the soccer world what a fantastic talent he is. Napoli’s club captain played 35 games in Serie A in 2020-21 and scored 19 goals while registering eight assists. In addition, Insigne was part of the Italian national team that won the delayed 2020 European Championships after beating England in a penalty shootout in the final at Wembley Stadium.

Insigne has 160 goals in 505 appearances and ten goals in 50 games for the Italian national side throughout his entire career.

When Will The MLS See Insigne In Action?

The 2022 MLS season kicks off on February 26, but Insigne will not be in Canada until July 1, which is when his contract expires with Napoli. This is great news for DC United because they will have played Toronto FC twice by then, meaning they do not have to come up with a plan to stop one of the trickiest and most-skillful wingers in world soccer.

Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders on July 3, which is the most likely date we will see Insigne in the Canadian team’s colors. Making his debut against Seattle will prove a test for Insigne because the team has finished second in the Western Conference for the past five seasons and are one of the most established MLS franchises.

Realistically, we Insigne could play in all of Toronto FC’s final 17 fixtures if he manages to stay fit. Try not to forget that until his move to the MLS is finalized, Insigne is still a Napoli player and is turning out for them each week; he already has 20 appearances under his belt for Napoli this season. Completing a full schedule for Napoli then Toronto’s last 17 fixtures would mean a 50-game season for the 30-year-old.

Why Is This Transfer A Great Move For MLS and American Soccer?

The MLS has some superb players competing in it, but the league is still seen as being relatively minor compared to soccer competitions in other countries. While the best MLS players command large salaries, they often pale into insignificance when compared with the base salaries enjoyed by fringe players in the English Premier League.

By paying Insigne a reported $15 million a year, Toronto FC has created a new tier of MLS salary. This shows MLS teams have the ability to pay larger wages and attract a higher level of players than ever before. Having a player of Insigne’s quality turning out across the US and Canada shows the MLS in a much better light and is likely to attract other stellar names to the competition. The MLS will no longer be a mish-mash of up-and-coming players and seasoned veterans heading towards retirement but awash with legitimate stars in the prime of their careers. All the elite players want to compete against the best, and it looks like the MLS could start becoming a viable option for them.

In addition, if Toronto is setting the bar for mega deals, MLS and soccer in general suddenly become an attractive option for US collegiate players. They no longer have to excel in basketball, football, or baseball to become a superstar earning sackfuls of money because becoming a professional soccer player could open the door to untold riches. Imagine the quality of the squad the US national team could have in time for the 2026 World Cup if more stars flock to the MLS. Exciting times are ahead, and that is thanks to Signore Lorenzo Insigne.

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