Going into this afternoon’s match against New York City FC, there was a lot of talk about how David Villa had surpassed Sebastian Giovinco as MLS’ best player. Villa, after all, won the league MVP award last season and this year has 14 goals and seven assists. He could well add more individual awards soon.
Maybe Giovinco caught wind of this discussion, because he sure seemed like a man out to prove something. The Atomic Ant scored a brace and added an assist to lead Toronto FC to a 4-0 victory over Villa and NYCFC.
He couldn’t have picked a better time to produce a statement game, with New York City hot on the heels of the Reds in the Supporters’ Shield race. Now the rest of the league has five points or more to make up.
But the timing doesn’t seem to be a coincidence; the more important the match, the better Giovinco has played this year. When Orlando City - the league’s hottest team early in the year - visited BMO Field, Giovinco scored twice in a 2-1 win. He added another two when the contending Chicago Fire came to visit in late April.
To this point, however, the highlight of Giovinco’s season was the Canadian Championship final against the Montreal Impact. The Italian won tournament MVP for his second-leg performance, scoring his second goal to clinch Toronto their first silverware of 2017 in the dying moments.
Today’s performance was very much in that same vein. In a first half with very little action for either side, a moment of brilliance from Giovinco gave TFC the lead. He flew past Andrea Pirlo as if he wasn’t even there before curling a left-footed attempt into the top left corner.
His second goal was vintage Giovinco; a free-kick from just outside the area that flew past Sean Johnson. There has been talk - which heated up in recent weeks after Jozy Altidore’s effort in the Gold Cup final - that maybe TFC ought to share their free-kicks. Today’s goal was Giovinco’s 10th with the dead ball since he arrived in Toronto and set an MLS record, swiftly ending that debate.
The goal was also a personal milestone; it was Giovinco’s 50th in MLS regular-season play. It only took him 78 games, and he also has put up 36 assists in that time. He’s averaged more than one goal or assist per league game since joining TFC.
Speaking of assists, Giovinco came up with one last moment of magic late in today’s match. He played a brilliant chipped pass over the top of the New York City back line which set up Raheem Edwards’ first MLS goal. It was one of three chances he created during the match, per Opta.
He could have even had a hat-trick, but Giovinco allowed Altidore to take a second-half penalty (or didn’t protest against it, at least). To be fair, Altidore had won the spot kick and confidently sent it into the top corner. Having both of them in good scoring form, after all, has been and will be key for Toronto this season.
Another important factor in the team’s success is how many players the club has who can change games: Victor Vazquez, Michael Bradley, Tosaint Ricketts, Altidore and Edwards to name a few. But today was a reminder that none of them can quite flip a game on its head the way that Giovinco can.
Overall, his numbers have been down basically across the board. That is due to a combination of niggling injuries, and the team not leaning on him nearly as much as they have in previous seasons. Giovinco would need to do something really special down the stretch to win his second league MVP award.
But if he can continue to win the club games when it matters his already impressive legacy will grow even more. The only thing that is really missing on his resume to this point is a game-changing performance in an MLS Cup final.
Given the way both the team and Giovinco have dealt with big games this season so far, that might just be on the cards before 2017 is out.