TORONTO – The best team in Major League Soccer will have to make do without their top scorer for a little while longer.
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney confirmed that Sebastian Giovinco isn’t quite fit, still dealing with a nagging quad strain that will rule him out for Saturday night’s home match against the New York Red Bulls.
Giovinco, who leads TFC in scoring this season with 15 goals in 23 appearances (all of them as a starter), has missed the Reds’ previous three games. The Italian forward trained with the team on Friday, but was put on restricted duty. Vanney said Giovinco is in the final steps of his recovery, but they don’t want to risk a setback by bringing their top scorer back too early.
"We are not going to [make] Sebastian available for selection this weekend," Vanney told reporters after the team’s practice.
"As he trained today with the group, he’s accomplished many of the things that we want, and he’s made real progress [in his recovery]. However, there’s still one big step, which is unloading shots and things like that which you do in a [match] environment, where it’s not controlled."
"We still have a few steps that we want to make with him before we put him out there, because there’s still some risk associated with him playing in a match situation."
Vanney later added: "He still has something there [with his quad] that it would be a risk for him to play in a match on Saturday."
TFC can afford to be extra cautious with Giovinco. Fellow forward Jozy Altidore, the club’s second-leading scorer this season with 13 goals in 24 appearances, has also missed the previous three games due to a hamstring injury. However, the American forward was involved in full training this week, has been cleared to play and is expected to be in the starting lineup on Saturday.
TFC is off next week due to the international break, and its next game isn’t until Oct. 15 when they host the Montreal Impact. Instead of rushing Giovinco back into action, the club is taking its time and will take full advantage of next week’s bye to allow the Italian to fully recover.
"We have two weeks on the other side of [Saturday’s] game that we can really profit from with him," Vanney offered.
Giovinco was not made available to the media after Friday’s training session. Vanney said the Italian is in a good frame of mind considering the situation.
"He’s eager, to put it mildly. He wants to get going, but he understands where he’s at, and he understands where we are in terms of the season and what’s in front of us. So, on that side of things, he gets it," Vanney explained.
With Giovinco out, look for Altidore to partner Canadian forward Tosaint Ricketts up front against New York. Ricketts has four goals in Toronto’s last three games, scoring two apiece in a 4-0 road win over the LA Galaxy and last week’s 5-3 home loss to Montreal.
Defenders Chris Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta and Jason Hernandez are all available for selection on Saturday after missing last week’s loss in New England due to a variety of injury issues.
Defender Nick Hagglund and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, who have been out with long-term injuries since the summer, have returned to full training and could see some playing time on Saturday.
Toronto FC sits comfortably atop the overall MLS standings with a 18-5-8 record and 62 points, and can clinch the Supporters’ Shield, the honour awarded to the team that finishes the regular season in first place, with a victory on Saturday.
Winning the Shield comes with the added bonus of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup final.
TFC is also chasing history as it tries to eclipse the league record for most points in a single season — the LA Galaxy collected 68 points during the 1998 campaign. Toronto has three games remaining to break the mark.