It was only a matter of time until the comparison was made. Over the last season and a half, Toronto FC splashed the cash on two big-name European stars: English striker Jermain Defoe, and Italian attacking midfielder Sebastian Giovinco.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now widely acknowledged that the Defoe experiment was ultimately unsuccessful. Lack of quality was not, however, the issue with Defoe; lack of commitment to the club is what eventually caused the striker to be shipped back overseas. With regards to his actual performance, Toronto fans can still remember the glimpses of brilliance and clinical finishing that Defoe showed in the early stages of the 2014 MLS season.
In Toronto FC's first 15 games of the bloody big era, Defoe featured in 12. The team's new star proved a most lethal finisher, scoring 10 goals in those 12 games and adding 2 assists for good measure. Excluding the matches Defoe missed due to injury, Toronto's record over his first 12 games was a respectable 6 wins, 3 losses and 3 draws, tallying 21 points in MLS play. At that point in time, Defoe still looked involved committed, and at times even downright happy.
Fast forward to 2015. Sebastian Giovinco has now played 12 MLS games, featuring in every match that TFC has contested. The tiny Italian has already shown he is one of the greatest players in the league, winning MLS player of the week on two (consecutive) occasions.
With 7 goals and TFC record-tying 6 assists thus far in his campaign, Giovinco has not only shown that he can find the back of the net with relative ease, but that he also makes those around him better, setting up goals like no TFC alumnus ever could. Giovinco's two free kick goals should also not go without notice, as the Reds have seldom fielded a set piece specialist that could deliver as deadly accurate a ball as those produced by the Atomic Ant.
Through Giovinco's first 12 games with the team, TFC has similarly accumulated 6 wins. But with 5 losses and only one draw, TFC's point total through Giovinco's first 12 games is 19- two points shy of their tally with Defoe. That being said, 9 of TFC's first 12 games this season have been away from home, whereas only 5 of Defoe's first 12 matches were played outside of BMO Field.
Now for some of the intangibles. Giovinco has arguably had a better secondary attacking DP in Jozy Altidore than Defoe's Gilberto- role differences notwithstanding. That being said, it remains to be seen whether Jozy has made Giovinco look good, or vice versa, in the matches the two played together.
Giovinco has also (often indirectly) benefited from a terrific TFC midfield addition in Benoit Cheyrou, whose defensive stability has given TFC's attacking pieces more room and freedom to go forward and create chances. Michael Bradley being pushed to the top of a midfield diamond has also paid dividends for the Italian star, as the chemistry so quickly developed between the two has been evident in recent matches.
But with every point comes a counterpoint- the fact that Giovinco scored two goals in a match without Bradley and Altidore shows that he may not need the support of his co-designated players to lead the team to victory. And the fact that Giovinco plays so well with both the Toronto captain and Altidore is a testament to his ability to do something that Defoe never could- play well with others (although in fairness to Defoe that's not always necessary when you're expected to do little more than score goals).
So we move on to the secondary stats. Unfortunately due to stat-tracking limitations, I'm going to have to compare Defoe's entire 2014 season- and we all know how the latter games of that season went for the striker- to Giovinco's games thus far in 2015. Table of secondary attacking stats below, and for each category the bold number indicates who has the upper edge-
|Player||Shots/90||Shooting %||Key passes/90||Passing %||Dribbles/90||Dispossessed/90||Bad touches/90||Fouled/90|
The statistics show that there is no one clear better player. Giovinco shoots more, but scores less. He makes more key passes and racks up assists, but Defoe actually had a better pass percentage. Giovinco dribbles more but also gets dispossessed more. As we've seen game after game, Giovinco has incredible touch when it comes to receiving passes both short and long- and that's also shown in the stats, with Defoe collecting more unsuccessful touches per game (although to be fair that could have also been due to poorer service).
Ultimately, here's my argument. Giovinco has been noticeable throughout entire games. His motion off the ball, being able to create space for himself, is incredible. For a sole DP to get the number of touches and opportunities he had when he was clearly the number one man to mark (and double-team) is nothing short of amazing.
Sure Jermain Defoe would make the occasional impressive run, but really he was rarely noticeable when the ball wasn't at his feet. Without service Defoe could do little to help the team- and while it can be argued that it's more due to his role than his quality, it would be similarly easy to say Giovinco has been the better of the two simply because he's in a more useful position for the Reds.
At the end of the day, the statistical analysis is really pretty close. It's also hard for me to put aside my bias, as I was one of Defoe's detractors when (in my opinion) he lost the motivation to play here. But maybe... just maybe... the eye test doesn't lie this time.
Sebastian Giovinco is dangerous with the ball- he can set up plays wonderfully, and he can finish. He can also take fantastic set pieces. He will only become more familiar with the league as time goes by, and that is truly a terrifying thought for opposing defenders.
Perhaps Giovinco truly is on a whole other level, and TFC has finally found a DP who is impactful, consistent, and healthy (just jinxed it) enough to take this team to a whole other level and into the playoffs (there- I believe two jinxes cancel each other out). At this point, all we can do is wait and see.