In victory, Toronto FC showed the first signs of defeat. Or, more specifically, Sebastian Giovinco did.
Through their run of one win in six games to start the season, Greg Vanney and most of his players have remained pretty level-headed. They insisted that they felt good about their performances despite the results and maintained that, in MLS, it was more important to peak in October than to make a hot start.
But if you thought Giovinco was cool, calm and collected and keeping faith in the process, it was pretty clear on Friday night against the Chicago Fire that you were mistaken. The Italian was smiling when he broke the deadlock to give the Reds a 1-0 lead, but for the most part the first vintage Giovinco performance we have witnessed this season felt like the result of a lot of pent-up aggression bubbling over.
He fired 11 shots at Jorge Bava - three more than Chicago managed as a team - and a 12th, in verbal form, in the direction of an unfortunate assistant referee. Then, after scoring a sublime free-kick, he was substituted so that BMO Field could send him off with a standing ovation and reacted in a way somewhat reminiscent of the My Super Sweet 16 girl who was presented with her brand-new Lexus at the wrong time.
Vanney, who had only had positive intentions, was left to sheepishly admit he had “miscalculated”. “Listen, Seba wants to score goals, the game was opening up, there might have been another opportunity or two there for him at the end and he’s passionate, he wants to score,” the coach said.
“A lot of people have a lot to say about why he hasn’t scored and all that kind of stuff, so… he’s a competitor. He was not happy that he was coming off the field in a game that’s opened up where he might get another chance to score the third goal.”
Not everyone in attendance will have been impressed by Giovinco’s body language and reaction but, like it or not, he is always going to receive special treatment and live by his own rules to a certain degree. He is well-liked enough in the locker room - and, of course, good enough - that, to this point, it hasn’t really ever been an issue.
More interesting, though, is Vanney’s admission that the slights that have been made against him over the past few months - which I would guess go back to the MVP snub and the cramp situation after the MLS Cup final in addition to the “heat” he has taken, as the coach put it, at the start of this season - have registered with the 30-year-old. Having played at a club like Juventus, you might imagine that anything aimed at him in MLS would simply go in one ear and out of the other.
Not so. His march straight down the tunnel was the clearest evidence, in the end, that Toronto have perhaps been a little bit more frustrated with their start to the season than the likes of Drew Moor, permanently upbeat and smiling and usually tasked with facing the media, have let off. Jozy Altidore, too, did not hang around for handshakes or to applaud the fans once the full-time whistle was blown, following his strike partner straight off the field.
“For the group that we have, it doesn’t matter whether we play at home or on the road,” Michael Bradley said afterwards. “It doesn’t matter who we play against. The idea, always, is to step on the field and play, and go for it, and compete, and put the game on our terms.
“I think the frustration - a little bit of frustration - through the first few games was that in a lot of stretches we were able to do that, but we weren’t, in key moments, we weren’t able to get the goals that we needed to. We gave away a few soft goals. We didn’t have enough to show for ourselves, so I think tonight is a good step forward in that regard and now we’ve got to just keep going.”
It felt as if, with a statement win earned, the shield came down. The team’s reaction, though - encapsulated by Giovinco more than anyone else - was less celebratory and more ‘about time’.