TORONTO – When it comes to Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, the best could be still to come from the dangerous duo.
During the 2016 Major League Soccer regular season, the Toronto FC forwards played in the same game on only 19 occasions, but they still managed to combine for an impressive 27 goals and 10 assists on the year. Lengthy injury spells to both men at different times meant they couldn’t form as effective a partnership as they would have liked.
Through the first three matches of the 2017 campaign, they’ve been on the field together at the same time for only 134 minutes. Giovinco was subbed out late in the first half against the Philadelphia Union on March 11 with a leg injury, and he sat out the Reds’ next game the following week versus the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But the Italian is fully fit again, and he has been cleared to play in Friday evening’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City, a contest that is expected to mark the on-field return of the Giovinco-Altidore combination.
Coach Greg Vanney is salivating at the prospect, and feels if both players can stay healthy this season, their third together in MLS, the partnership can reach new levels.
“It’s, in some ways, scary to think [about],” Vanney admitted this week. “It’s great for me to think about the possibilities. I still think that it’s a relationship between the two of them that can continue to blossom. They just haven’t really had that many consecutive games together as a partnership.
“I think they can continue to get a little clearer and cleaner on how they can play off each other and use each other if we can get some consistency.”
Last year’s run by the Reds to the MLS Cup final gave a glimpse of the damage Giovinco and Altidore can do when they can get a run of games together. With both players healthy, they started all six post-season contests together, scoring a combined nine goals and tallying eight assists.
“When they’re both sharp and playing how they want to play and playing together as a tandem, I think it could be really interesting,” Vanney said.
“I don’t want to put numbers on it, [but] I just think there’s a lot of possibility there.”
What makes the Giovinco-Altidore pairing so dangerous? Vanney believes their individual playing styles perfectly complement one other.
“When Jozy is playing big and strong, it’s his physical nature to be able to punish [central defenders], to be able to create space for Seba; to hold balls up and give Seba some space to work underneath,” Vanney said.
“When Jozy is playing more centrally he’s showing that here’s this guy you can run off and playoff off of, and he attracts a lot of attention. It’s very difficult to mark either one of them in one-on-one situations, so if they can use each other they can create space for each other and good looks for each other.”
And it’s not just Giovinco and Altdore who can reap the rewards from their partnership.
“The guys who will really benefit are [TFC’s] wide players, and some of the central midfielders running off them because they attract so much attention in terms of defending them that it frees up someone along the front line,” Vanney stated.
“If we can beat teams coming around the outside… then the middle will start to open up more and more for those guys.”
Staying healthy, of course, is easier said than done. Both Giovinco and Altidore have missed time due to injury during their respective tenures in Toronto.
Last week’s international-break bye gave Giovinco extra time to recuperate and recover after missing the Reds’ previous match. Vanney believes the week off could have long-term benefits for the Italian later on this season.
“I think [the bye week] was huge,” Vanney opined. “Because of the injury, he was able to take a step back, and go back to Italy and see the physician that he tends to see every few months. I think it’s a good trip for him in a lot of ways.
“It gave us a couple of weeks to really push him fitness-wise once he was feeling better. He looks sharp as ever, motivated as ever. I think it was a really good break for him and kind of for the group as well to take a step back from those first three games, take in some information and try to push forward.”