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Sebastian Giovinco does not play for Toronto FC

Tej Sahota shares a personal story that many 2020 Toronto FC fans can relate to.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors
May 25, 2019: Former Toronto FC forward and MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco looks on from courtside seats as Toronto Raptors defeat Milwaukee Bucks in game six of the Eastern Conference final at Scotiabank Arena.
(Hamilton/USA TODAY)

BRAMPTON, Canada—Some days, I don’t think of Sebastian Giovinco at all.

I mean it’s been two years since he last donned a Reds jersey, two years since he last took the pitch at BMO Field, and two years since he dazzled us with his genius on the pitch.

Why would I?

I know he doesn’t play for Toronto FC anymore, you know he doesn’t play for Toronto FC anymore. Heck, 99.99 per cent of #TFCLive know he doesn’t play for Toronto FC anymore.

But my seven-year-old son doesn’t know that. He still wears the jersey. He still sings the chant. He still believes in magic, not having seen behind the curtain—just yet.

I just haven’t been able to tell him and break his heart, to let him know that his favourite player is gone. I can’t bring myself to utter the words in front of him: ‘Sebastian Giovinco does not play for Toronto FC.’

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Toronto FC

A little background. My son, who is now seven, started going with me to games when he was two, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he really started to understand the game well enough to know that scoring goals were good, letting in goals were bad, and that the team with more goals won the game. He tried his best to follow along, but he didn’t exactly have the attention span to appreciate a play in the back half and all the nuanced build-up that soccer fans appreciate.

For him, it was all about the goals.

So, we developed a little system: whenever the ball got into the attacking area, or a scoring chance was developing, I would give him a little nudge, and he would look up from his Nintendo Switch to focus on the play. Whenever a goal was scored, he’d ask me who that was, and more often than not, when something exciting had happened, the reply coming back would be ‘that was Giovinco!’ He quickly learned to associate ‘Giovinco’ with excitement and delight. He was not alone in making that association. For a four-year period there, that name evoked a Pavlovian response of joy when we heard the name.

After the move to Saudi Arabia at the end of the 2018 season, I was afraid that if I told him Giovinco was off the team, he would stop going (because why go when the excitement is gone?), so along with our seatmates and friends at BMO Field—Colin, Taylor, Michelle and David—we all kept up the charade of convincing my little one that Giovinco was still on the team.

Sometimes, we’d point at Auro Jr. (because of the height thing), or otherwise, we’d just proclaim ‘what a play by Giovinco!’ knowing it’d catch his ear—and sometimes, we’d even get in on the Giovinco chant with him. It was reassuring to him; it put a smile on his face. Going to BMO Field with dad and watching Giovinco was comforting, you knew there would be excitement, and I was afraid that the moment this lie fell apart, he would see no reason to tag along with me, to take part in what had become a tradition.

Giovinco wasn’t a player anymore; he hadn’t been one for years. He was an idea, an embodiment of the hope that surrounds any soccer match for any soccer fan: 90 minutes of oasis in a world consumed otherwise with despair and turmoil. I wasn’t going to take the chance to take these moments of bonding and shared happiness away—from either of us.

I just haven’t had the heart to tell him: ‘Sebastian Giovinco does not play for Toronto FC.’

(Sean Pollock/Waking the Red)

We didn’t go to many games this season, one to be exact, before the world came crumbling down at all of our feet. Then there was the Disney restart, and its odd start times. I found myself watching fewer games with my son, and more on my own, alone. So, I didn’t think of Giovinco these past few months.

I instead thought of the new players brought in, the new stars to take the orbit around BMO Field. I thought of the old stalwarts who had been there for years, and I thought about all the young nascent talent waiting to take their turn in the spotlight. Giovinco, the player, was replaced by new shiny toys, and the idea itself had new names. There were days we called the idea Ayo Akinola, other days Alejandro Pozuelo. Some days, the idea never existed at all. It worked in practice, but not in theory.

This was a deeper team, a more thought-out team, a team that was exactly the sum of its parts. This was a team built with scouting, with analytics and with years of experience. The idea of Giovinco had long expired; this was a new 6ix side, on a new wave.

And I believed it. A lot of us did. Most all of us did. A run to the MLS Cup Final last year had people tweeting ‘Giovinco who?’. That run was magical, but it wasn’t the affirmation of an idea’s expiration. It was instead the papering over of a lot of mistakes, and some underlying truths that we all just weren’t, and maybe still aren’t, willing to accept yet, but who’s moment of reckoning is coming sooner than we think because of a very unexpected early exit in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Maybe it’s a gap year, and a lot of things can be written off because of the unprecedented challenges that this year brought for everyone, let alone a soccer team who made home in Hartford. But in the acuity of Tuesday evening’s game, I couldn’t help but think of Sebastian Giovinco, a name I had tried so hard to forget.

Because when Nashville pulled out all the stops to play a neutral trap, to slow the game down, to bring seven or eight players into the defensive box, I was so convinced that we were just a moment of brilliance away from getting the needed goal that would bust the whole game wide open. I was expecting to see a player get the ball on his foot and do physics-breaking tricks with it before depositing it into the back of the net. I was expecting to see that individual brilliance, where the hair on your neck begins to stand up and you nudge the child beside you to look up and take notice of something amazingly beautiful that was about to happen, no matter how ugly everything before it had been: that moment you become a child in love with the beautiful game.

That moment never came.

The team that was bigger than just one player, didn’t have that one player. Not when it needed him the most.

And so, as I sat there in the post game twitterverse, I agreed with my friend Duane Rollins (@24thminute) that it was okay to be disappointed about the result, but not be carried away with the overreactions.

There was no need to overreact, not now. But the truth is, it wasn’t until Tuesday night that I came to realize a truth, which so many of us had been scared to acknowledge. This was a good team, a damn good team. But on those ugly nights where nothing was going our way, that talisman was gone.

So maybe one day, I will have to tell my son the truth. But first, I need to come to grips with it myself. The lie I’ve been telling my son, is the same lie I’ve been telling myself, and it’s time to come out with the truth, and recognize the reality for what it is when it comes to this era of Toronto FC.

The idea, much like the man, is long gone.

Sebastian Giovinco does not play for Toronto FC.