Giovinco Italy call a ‘watershed moment’ for MLS

Sebastian-Giovinco

Sebastian Giovinco. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

TORONTO — For Sebastian Giovinco, a recall to the Italian national team is proof that you get rewarded for good play.

For Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, however, it is something for Major League Soccer to savour.

"I think it’s a watershed moment," Bezbatchenko said.

Italy coach Antonio Conte has summoned Giovinco and New York City FC playmaker Andrea Pirlo for Euro 2016 qualifiers against Malta and Bulgaria next week.

For the Toronto GM, it is another mark of respectability for the young league in the eyes of fans around the globe. An elite player comes to MLS in his prime, performs as advertised and continues to play a part for a world soccer power on the international scene.

"This is a testament to his hard work," Bezbatchenko said of Giovinco. "He took a risk on the league. I don’t think anyone argues that. But I think he believed in what we’re doing at Toronto FC — in the city, in the league. He’s deservedly being rewarded for that by a coach that also believes in him."

The 28-year-old Giovinco, who came over from Italian powerhouse Juventus, is a leading candidate for MVP in his first MLS season. Going into weekend play, he ranked second in the league with 17 goals and fourth in assists with 12.

A measure of his importance to Toronto is the fact that he had scored or set up 29 of its 42 goals prior to Saturday’s game against visiting Montreal.

"Giovinco is doing very well in Canada. He’s returning to be the player we knew and he can be an important part of this team," Conte said Friday in Italy. "And Pirlo will be in there, too. I think he’s still a key player for us, and as long as he holds up and makes a difference on the pitch he’ll be with us."

The 36-year-old Pirlo joined New York City FC last month from Juventus.

Giovinco came off in the 51st minute of Toronto’s 2-1 win over Montreal on Saturday. Coach Greg Vanney said the Italian had been feeling adductor soreness during the week but was still slated to join the Italian side.

"They will assess him when he gets there," said Vanney.

The Montreal Impact can also point to high-profile international call-ups in defenders Laurent Ciman (Belgium) and Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and midfielder Johan Venegas (Costa Rica).

Giovinco, who made his Italian national team debut in February 2011 against Germany, has won 21 caps for his country and played at Euro 2012 and the 2013 Confederations Cup.

His last appearance for Italy was a November 2014 win over Albania. Italy has only played four matches since.

"I’m very happy," Giovinco, speaking through an interpreter, said of his recall.

The Italian forward said he had not expected to be called up earlier in the year, because he was settling into a new league. But he was confident that good play would be rewarded no matter where it took place.

"When you play well and you’re playing hard and you’re focused and committed, the results come with it," he said.

Just five foot four and 135 pounds, Giovinco has proved to be almost impossible to defend one-on-one in MLS. He is fast, strong and can score from both feet with a deadly touch from set pieces. He is also a creator, setting up goals.

Off the field, the low-maintenance Giovinco has been a welcome counterpoint to the drama that surrounded England forward Jermain Defoe in Toronto last season.

There was no recall for mercurial forward Mario Balotelli, who hasn’t played for Italy since the Azzurri were eliminated in the first round of last year’s World Cup.

Italy is second in Group H, two points behind Croatia.

The Italian call-up means Giovinco will miss Toronto’s Sept. 5 game in Seattle. Bezbatchenko said he was confident MLS will eventually look to co-ordinate its schedule with FIFA’s international dates.

"It’s incumbent upon ourselves and the league to create a schedule that helps those teams that are trying to push the envelope," he said.

Italy

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Daniele Padelli (Torino), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain);

Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St.Petersburg, Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter).

Midfielders: Andrea Bertolacci (AC Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain.

Forwards: Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Eder (Sampdoria), Stephan El Shaarawy (Monaco), Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Ciro Immobile (Sevilla), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Franco Vazquez (Palermo), Simone Zaza (Juventus).

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