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Toronto FC’s return to training overshadowed by Sebastian Giovinco bombshell

The Reds look to be set for a fight with the Chinese Super League.

Luke Galati

Speaking in English - learned, he claimed, not in a classroom but “on the street” - for the first time to reporters as Toronto FC began their 2017 preseason, Sebastian Giovinco seemed as settled in Canada as ever.

He spoke of the season ahead without any indication he might not be part of it. “I think we are a good team - we change a little bit, but we are almost the same as last year, no? So we try to do the best [we can].”

He spoke about the positive reviews of Major League Soccer he gives his friends back in Italy. “My friends ask me [about] MLS and I say the same thing: I like it here. I’m happy, so I think that is the most important [thing].”

Other than that - understandably, given it was his debut without the translator - Giovinco did not say much.

Perhaps that is encouraging, in a way, when it comes to the bombshell that dropped a few hours later; if Giovinco knew what was coming, he did a good job of hiding it. In two television interviews in Italy, Giovinco’s agent Andrea D’Amico revealed his client is the subject of interest from the Chinese Super League, firstly claiming one “important” offer was on the table and then saying there was concrete interest from two different clubs. Most alarmingly, he admitted the money on offer would be difficult to turn down.

Toronto did not seem to be aware of any of this in advance and had they been it is unlikely Giovinco ever would have faced the media. Indeed, the line coming out of the club is that they have had no contact with any parties from China.

It did occur to me earlier in the winter that Giovinco would make a lot of sense as a CSL target. By making the move to and thriving in Toronto, he has shown that far-flung destinations do not faze him and that he has the individual capacity to score and assist a tremendous number of goals even when he is a cut above most of his teammates. While he earns plenty in MLS, his salary is not so high that Chinese clubs could not top it.

MLS: Playoffs-Toronto FC at New York City FC Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

With interest now apparently a reality, we are left to apprehensively wait out the next month (the Chinese transfer window closes on February 28). It’s tempting, in the meantime, to attempt to reassure oneself by listing all the reasons Giovinco might not want to go to China. There is the drastic change in lifestyle and culture shock, the relative irrelevance of the league on the footballing landscape today and the hope that the 29-year-old might not be motivated by money alone.

The fact is, though, that Giovinco has already taken the plunge - and opened himself up to criticism of his motives - once in his career by coming to MLS, and it would be to sink to the level of the snobs in Europe who turned their nose up at Toronto to now do the same to whoever is pursuing him in China. All there is to do is to hope this city and this club has offered Giovinco enough on a personal and competitive level to persuade him to stay a little longer.

MLS: MVP Press Conference Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Well, maybe not all; we could also hope that D’Amico might be creating a scene a little more dramatic than the reality. Though outspoken, I don’t think D’Amico is on the same level as, say, his compatriot Mino Raiola when it comes to manipulating publicity for the benefit of both his client and himself, but if he feels it is time MLSE added an extra million or two to Giovinco’s pay the salaries coming out of China are useful leverage. Certainly, if it was the case that Giovinco had told D’Amico to actively pursue a move to China, he would have been gone long before this first week of preseason.

Toronto, for their part, will obviously not want to sell and do not need the money. Perhaps a firm stance of ‘not for sale’ early on could make this less of a saga than it threatens to become if Giovinco is given any extra encouragement to consider his options.

Three trialists at training camp

Toronto are taking a look at three potential new signings this preseason. One, as we covered on Saturday, is Trinidad & Tobago international Aikim Andrews. The other two, per John Molinaro of Sportsnet, are Finnish centre-back Johan Brunell and American right-back Jordan McCrary.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New England Revolution at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Brunell is very tall. He’s listed on Finnish Wikipedia at 191cm (6’ 3”), but looks bigger than that in pictures. He seems to have caught Toronto’s eye at something called the M6P Showcase in Mexico, which is a trial of sorts that a few MLS clubs, among others, send scouts to. The 25-year-old most recently played for FF Jaro in the Finnish second tier, but is now out of contract.

McCrary seems a bit more interesting, on the surface. He was a first-round pick of the New England Revolution last year out of North Carolina, but did not play a single game with the Revs before being released just 12 months later. Selected at 10th overall, McCrary went one pick after Toronto took Tsubasa Endoh. The Reds should, therefore, know plenty about him from their pre-draft scouting.