TORONTO – Suggestions about Sebastian Giovinco’s demise have been grossly exaggerated.
That was the message from Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney when grilled by Sportsnet about the Italian’s form this season for the Reds.
Giovinco has 10 goals and four assists in all competitions in 2017, a more-than-respectable haul, especially when you consider those totals have been achieved despite two separate injury spills that saw him miss four Major League Soccer games.
After a somewhat slow start (by his high standards), the Atomic Ant has been one of TFC’s best and most influential players the past few weeks. He set up both goals in a win over D.C. United earlier this month, he scored in TFC’s victory over the New England Revolution in MLS last week, and then he netted a brace in a 2–1 decision against the Montreal Impact on Tuesday, helping the Reds win the Canadian Championship.
Giovinco’s last three outings went some way in answering his growing number of critics both in the media and among TFC supporters who feel he’s far off the form he displayed during his debut season in 2015 when he was named the league MVP.
Reporter Joshua Kloke of The Athletic recently wrote an in-depth piece on Giovinco, noting that he’s down this year compared to his first two seasons in the league in a number of statistical categories: goals and assist per game, key passes per game and shots per game.
During the Montreal game, esteemed MLS analyst Matt Doyle seemed to sum up the general feeling of a portion of TFC’s fan base when he tweeted:
Giovinco enjoyed one of the greatest individual seasons in league history in 2015, as he led the league in goals (22), assists (16) and shots (181), and was the first MLS player to reach 20+ goals and 10+ assists in a single campaign.
Has Giovinco this season matched what he did in 2015? No, he hasn’t. But he still ranks among the top players in MLS, and Vanney feels there’s been far too much hand-wringing on the subject.
“When a player has been unfortunate to miss the amount of games he did because of injury… it’s usually going to take a few more weeks to get back to your old levels. That’s all very normal,” Vanney told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat.
“I think he has just created such a standard for every time he goes out onto the field for the incredible that people are expecting it every time.”
A quadriceps strain and a bruised heel are just two things Giovinco has had to overcome this season. Now in his third MLS campaign, the Italian must contend with opposing teams who have a better read on him, according to Vannney.
“Seba said this during pre-season that this year is going to be harder than the first two years because teams are starting to adapt in their ways of dealing with him, and they’re starting to gain an understanding of how they want to defend the spaces that he takes up or where he’s at,” Vanney explained.
“Teams are also getting better overall. The East is a very good conference, and because of that Seba realizes that each year he’s here it’s going to be harder to duplicate what he’s been able to do.”
The goal against New England was Giovinco’s seventh in MLS this season, and his first since mid-May after his latest injury layoff. Following the game, Vanney stated that Giovinco has been working harder in training than any time since he arrived in MLS.
The extra time spent on the training ground since coming back from his quadriceps strain has clearly paid off.
“I’ve admired over the last several weeks how he has internally looked and said to himself, ‘Okay, this is what I need to continue to push at.’ He’s met with our sports-science staff and looked at different things he could do. He’s put in an incredible amount of work,” Vanney offered.
You could tell the sense of relief Giovinco felt with his emotional post-goal celebration against New England. Getting back on the score sheet was clearly weighing on his mind.
“It’s weighed on him in a way that he just feels a sense of responsibility to score goals to help the team win, knowing that’s his role and that’s the expectation, and that’s one of the major ways he finds his value within the team. Nobody is harder on Seba than he is,” Vanney said.
The delicious irony of media and fan complaints that Giovinco hasn’t been as influential for TFC this season isn’t lost on Vanney. In 2015, a common criticism of the Reds was that they were a one-man team; that Giovinco too often single-handedly won them games and that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him.
Two years on, Toronto is coming off an MLS Cup appearance and sits in first place overall at the halfway point of the 2017 campaign. TFC is a far more balanced side, and Giovinco is no longer the focal point of the team.
And yet, the complaints continue that Giovinco isn’t the same player he was two years ago. Vanney can’t help but chuckle.
“Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind that two years ago with not an entirely different roster we were considered a one-man team, that we could only win because of Seba. Two years later, a bunch of other players are stepping up as Seba has worked his way back to fitness, and we’re still winning. But now the complaint is that Seba’s not doing his thing. It’s like, pick your story here, right?” Vanney said.