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Mambo Italiano (reprise)

Yesterday felt different. 

Sean Pollock/Waking The Red

It was a vibe, it was a new beginning, it was a fresh chapter. It was a lot of things, but above all, it was fun.

It felt different when we boarded a train an hour earlier than normal, only to find the platform already full of Toronto FC fans in red jerseys, along with a significant mix of fans in their blue Napoli kits. It felt different when you could see the buzz and excitement on the faces of old Italian men who were joyously conversing in their native language, the exact translation difficult to place verbatim, but un-mistakenly soccer, or rather calico, in its core.

It felt different when we approached the gates of BMO Field 30 minutes before the doors were even open, and encountered lines that were already 30-40 people deep, and in some cases, snaked around the building.

The conversations here were ones full of speculation. Would the new Italian reinforcements of Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne be able to start? How long could they play? As 6:30pm started to come, there was a whole contingent of fans in lines glued to their phones to see news of the starting XI being released, and then a kind of energetic boost permeated through the crowd, when it was indeed confirmed that both of the Italians would be starting, along with their paisan Domenico Criscito.

The marquee on the video board above the food building may have been advertising ‘Caribana Night’ but it suddenly felt like Italian heritage night in the concourses of BMO Field.

There were songs being sung about the boy from Napoli. There were loud and joyful conversations about having watched him back home in Italy. There were proclamations made, some grand in nature, and some more benign, on what the impact of Insigne would be in this league.

There were talks of him becoming the greatest player this league has even seen, which is certainly feasible, but would require him to surpass the body of work of his fellow countryman Sebastian Giovinco, and the fires he put on as a member of the Reds.

Ah yes, you didn’t think I was going to go an entire article talking about the new Italian players, and not reference Seba, did you? Me of all people?!

The Giovinco era brought with it a certain swagger, a certain energy, that this was a big time club. One who played for trophies, plural. With all due respect to the understudies who had been cast to fill in that role; the Pozuelo’s, the Piatti’s, the Soteldo’s…it never really felt the same since La Formica Atomica left us.

Until yesterday.

Oh sure there was plenty of excitement for number 10, but as the flags stuffed in each seat assured you, this was about one person, and one person only. Il Magnifico is the closest I’ll get to experience Beatlemania at a soccer game.

And so the game went. 45 minutes of dazzling, plus another 45 minutes of realizing what was missing when Insigne left the pitch. And then the familiar sounds of Depeche Mode walking us out of the stadium, and into the parking lots for songs, dancing, drums and fireworks.

This was not a celebration of beating Charlotte FC in a game in late July, to keep our faint playoff hopes alive. This was the celebration to acknowledge that we had just witnessed the beginning of a new era at TFC, and one who shared the DNA with the last time an Italian savior had arrived to change the fortunes of this club.

You see, that’s what makes this so exciting; the expectations. We’ve seen before what one magical Italian forward can bring to this team. What winning feels like. What winning over and over feels like. Past results aren’t always an indicator of future results, but sometimes they sure can give us a glimpse of the fate that awaits us.

The fans of Toronto FC now have the ability to look forward with joy and glee, and dream of dancing to trophy celebrations. Seba brought with him the tarantella. Insigne the mambo from Napoli.

The dances may differ, but the victory songs will remain the same. How good it will feel.

Tutti Per Uno.