Happy Sebastian Giovinco Day!
Sebastian Giovinco will be named Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player today.
The numbers speak for themselves. Giovinco notched 22 goals and 16 helpers for a ridiculous 38 pts in 33 games. That's a staggering 1.15 pts per game. His 22 goals are good enough to match Kei Kamara of the Crew for most in the league; his assist total delivers him the Golden Boot. He was named MLS Player of the Week three times and Player of the Month twice. The numbers add up to an MVP season, but the title MVP doesn't fully cover what Sebastian Giovinco is to Toronto FC.
The Atomic Ant is in a word a saviour for a club that has blundered its way through nine long years. He has washed away the bitter taste of the "Bloody Big Deal". He has also embraced Toronto and seems genuinely happy to be here, a fact that cannot be underestimated in this city. Most importantly, he dragged TFC into the playoffs for the first time in team history almost by himself.
Let's take a trip down memory lane to Monday, January 13, 2014. A London style red double decker bus brings a touch of the UK to Maple Leafs Square. "It's a Bloody Big Deal" emblazoned on the side of that bus. Fans and media gather at Real Sports Bar and Grill as Toronto FC rolls out the red carpet for the biggest acquisition ever for the club, striker, Jermain Defoe. Surely, the England international would come here, take the team on his shoulders and carry it to the promise land.
One year later, Defoe was gone; arguably he was barely here, just 11 goals in 19 appearances. His season marred by injury and the promised playoff appearance never materialized. Defoe happily went home to England in a swap with Sunderland A.F.C of the Barclays Premier League that saw U.S. international, Jozy Altidore coming to Toronto.
Within days of Defoe's departure, Toronto FC announced another new arrival, this time from Juventus. Sebastian Giovinco received a rock-star welcome at Pearson International Airport, hundreds of fans providing a warm Toronto greeting to offset a very cold February afternoon.
The morning after his arrival, the media gathered again at Air Canada Centre to be formally introduced to the Atomic Ant. The atmosphere had a sense of déjà vu, prompting one reporter to query GM, Tim Bezbatchenko as to the whereabouts of the "Bloody Big Deal" bus.
There was scepticism as to whether a 5'4 featherweight could survive the physicality and rigours of the MLS season. How would he adapt to life in North America and a city that he had never even visited? Most importantly, was he going to be Defoe 2.0?
His play and personality answered all questions as to whether this experiment would be different. He set up Jozy Altidore for the season opening goal for TFC in a win over the Whitecaps. He would find his first goal in Chicago at the beginning of April. He would figure in on 60% of Toronto's goals this season. Stats like that make Sebastian Giovinco the MVP. The way the he did it makes him so much more to Toronto FC and its fans.
Giovinco provides a verve and electricity in his play not seen before at BMO Field. His explosiveness and creativity is fun to watch and fun to be a part of. His game is just what the doctor ordered for a team that was sagging badly under the weight of a culture of defeat.
Toronto is a city that is desperate to be loved by its sports stars. Torontonians want athletes who like it here and want to be a part of our city. Cynics call it an inferiority complex, but most Torontonians fiercely love the city that they call home and it means something to them to have the people that they cheer for feel the same way. That's a very cool thing about Toronto.
Sebastian Giovinco loves Toronto. Check out his Instagram account if you need evidence of that fact. Seba came here last year looking for an adventure. He was looking for an opportunity to play a lot more than he would have in Europe and in the process he has embraced this city. He embodies what the city of Toronto is all about. The marketing machine at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment couldn't have come up with a better campaign to sell tickets than the best player in the league openly being one of us and loving every second of it.
His play in MLS has turned heads in Europe, including at Spanish giants, Barcelona, yet he remains committed to Toronto FC. That commitment came into focus the night that TFC booked its first ticket to the playoffs. Giovinco had spent his day on a trans-continental flight from Rome, returning from international duty with Italy. He arrived just hours before the match. He had every right to take the night off. He didn't, he wanted to play and the magic that he created that night will be remembered long after his time at BMO Field is up.
It was playoffs or bust for Toronto FC this year. Another season of mind numbing losses and failure to appear in the postseason would have been devastating for a team that had 8,000 new seats to sell and season seat holders who had fallen into the malaise of perpetual awfulness. The atmosphere at the end of the 2014 season around BMO Field was toxic and was bordering on apathy. There seemed to be no hope and 2015 would likely have been even worse had Giovinco not chosen to give Toronto a chance.
In Sebastian Giovinco, TFC got the injection of life that it desperately needed. The team and its fans have been reinvigorated by the prospect of progress. Toronto FC after 8 seasons of unmet expectations found the superhero that it needed to save the day in the Atomic Ant.