Frustration over Toronto FC's dismal season boiled over Saturday night with fans getting into a verbal altercation with injured Italian star Lorenzo Insigne.
It seems most everyone involved behaved badly. Although one can perhaps cut Insigne some slack given his young sons were present and distressed at the abuse coming their father's way.
On Monday, Insigne apologized for the way he reacted. But he also said that while he understands the fans' frustration at a 4-17-10 campaign, he doesn't comprehend the personal attack on the weekend.
"This is the first time that something like this has ever happened to me, that I'm receiving all these insults that I believe are unjustified — that I'm here just for the money, when I'm not," Insigne said through an interpreter. "This has been very difficult for me mentally, because I'm coming off an injury from (a game against) Miami. And I can't understand why something like this would happen. I'm mentally exhausted."
The 32-year-old Insigne, who has missed the last two games with a lower body injury, was watching Saturday's 3-2 loss to league-leading FC Cincinnati at BMO Field with his wife and two sons from a private box when something was said from the fans below.
The Italian clearly didn't like it, with video posted on social media showing him making an obscene gesture and dropping an F-bomb before being pulled away and leaving the box. The fans involved were ejected.
Toronto general manager Jason Hernandez said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment continues to investigate the incident.
"There's no doubt our fans and supporters are frustrated, as we all are," Hernandez said in an interview. "I'm incredibly frustrated. I know Lorenzo's incredibly frustrated. He's frustrated that he's dealing with an injury. He's frustrated that the season hasn't gone, I'm sure, to his standards and his liking, certainly not us as a club (to our liking). And so there's frustration to go around."
Despite that, Hernandez said there are lines you don't cross. And while understanding the reaction of Insigne the father, he noted "two wrongs don't make a right."
On Monday, Insigne apologized "to all the fans" for his reaction to the abuse.
"I knew that was irresponsible and I shouldn't have behaved that way," he said. "But while I was sitting there taking these insults, my family was there, my kids were there. They were crying. They thought something was going to happen to me and I kind of reacted as a father, not as a player.
"I'm a professional. I know these things should not happen. And I apologize again to all the fans of Toronto. And this won't happen again."
With Toronto languishing in the league basement, it has been another season to forget.
The team has lost four straight and won just one of its last 18 matches (1-14-3) in all competitions.
Insigne has shown flashes of both brilliance and petulance in a difficult season.
The Italian is not a good loser and it shows. His body language has spoken volumes at times with Insigne looking forlorn while letting others chase after a ball he himself turned over.
Injuries have cut into his season.
He limped off 34 minutes into the Feb. 25 season opener, a 3-2 loss at D.C. United that saw Toronto concede goals in the 90th and 98th minute. He missed the next six games and has played in just 19 of Toronto's 31 league matches this season, starting 17, with four goals and five assists.
Insigne, who made his TFC debut in July 2022, has won just eight of 32 matches he has appeared in wearing Toronto colours.
With a salary of US$7.5 million this year, Insigne ranks second on the MLS salary list, behind only Chicago's Xherdan Shaqiri's $8.153 million, although the MLS Players Association list came out before Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami.
That big-ticket salary, combined with his injury absences, have made Insigne a lightning rod for disgruntled TFC fans who seem to treat the Italian like a Formula One car. It should go fast whenever you turn the key, regardless of the condition of the engine or the pit crew surrounding it.
Insigne is mystified at the recent attacks.
"This is the first time this has ever happened," he said. "Even at the beginning of the year when the team was struggling at times, fans have only been respectful. They were always encouraging, kind."
Insigne said he is "very proud" to be in Toronto and his family is very happy here. And the former Napoli captain spoke highly of the TFC support in such a disappointing season.
"I've never seen fans like this," he said. "You have to appreciate the fans of Toronto because it doesn't matter how bad or how the team is struggling, they still come to the stadium. This is something that you don't see across Europe."
Insigne said if a team was last in Europe, "only the relatives would be at the stadium."
The Italian said he will be back next season and is looking forward to working with former Canada coach John Herdman, who took over the TFC reins this week.
"I'm very excited with the new staff. I'm actually looking forward to the new season," Insigne said. "I've never had so many injuries in my career as I've had this past year and I hope I'm going to get better and in the new season we're all going to work hard together."