When all the various storylines, narratives and angles have been exhausted, weeks like this one always seem to end up circling back to Sebastian Giovinco.
This time last year, we were anticipating the final vindication of the Italian’s move to Canada. Instead, we got disaster.
Fast forward 12 months and, once again, life is good for Giovinco in Toronto.
On Saturday, he will return to the MLS Cup final for a shot at redemption. His agent, Andrea D’Amico, said this week that Giovinco “loves the city and the fans… he does not want to leave Toronto”. He has hired a Canadian PR agency to further build his brand in North America, pouring cold water on the idea that a return to Europe could be on the cards.
And even with defences bearing down on him more than ever - “the tactics have changed, for sure, against us,” he says - he has done what he has always done in front of goal. In 2015, his goals-per-game rate in MLS was 0.65. Last year, it was 0.62. This year, it stands at 0.61 with one game to play.
Yes, his chance-creation stats have dropped - from 1.84 chances created per game in his first two seasons to 1.14 per game this year - but that can partially be explained by the burden Victor Vazquez has taken off his shoulders.
Toronto hardly suffered, after all; they scored an astonishing 74 goals during the regular season, 22 more than their MLS Cup final opponents. Giovinco was back in the running for the league’s MVP award, placing fourth overall and third in the votes cast by his peers.
The 30-year-old is already, for many, the greatest player in MLS history. It is hard to argue that any player that has spent his prime years in this league has had greater technical gifts or a more jaw-dropping imagination.
For all the goals he has scored and all the games he has decided, though, Giovinco is still waiting for that one big, legacy moment.
There was the hat-trick against New York City FC in last year’s conference semi-final, and the Canadian Championship-winning double in June. Both were spectacular in different ways. But Giovinco came here to win more than a playoff round and, with all due respect to the Voyageurs Cup, lifting it does not currently require a Herculean effort.
What the last-minute winner against the Montreal Impact was, though, was an example of how Giovinco has strived to be present when it matters most this year.
Perhaps that is a consequence of what happened in December. Most would agree Giovinco has not been quite as dazzling week in, week out as he was in his first two years in the league, but his tally of genuinely meaningful goals has multiplied almost by the month.
“I’m proud of him, also,” Vanney said after the Canadian Championship win, “because coming off the [MLS Cup] final where he wasn’t able to stay on the field through extra time... tonight, to be there in a big game and bury the two goals that went in for us, it’s a huge night for him.”
In July, he demolished New York City once again. August brought another match-winning 401 Derby performance and, after an injury, Giovinco returned in October to secure the regular-season points record against Atlanta United and a key first-leg advantage over the New York Red Bulls.
In the conference final, his part in Jozy Altidore’s winning goal did not show up on the scoresheet but might have been the single most important contribution of the tie.
These playoff games have been close. They have been dogfights. And Saturday, against the Seattle Sounders, is likely to be more of the same.
“What I always tell guys going into a big game like this is: don’t worry about the final score,” Drew Moor said this week. “Don’t think about the end product.
“Just go take it one moment at a time, one play at a time. It’s a lot easier said than done, but if we can just execute in the small moments, then the final score will take care of itself.”
No one has risen to the fore in those moments like Giovinco this season.
He may already be the greatest player in MLS history, just as Toronto may already be the league’s greatest team. But with one more goal, one more moment, neither will be in any doubt.