By his own hand (or foot), over the course of this season, Sebastian Giovinco has demonstrated that it’s time for a change. Not a change in terms of leaving Toronto FC, but a change in terms of how his skills are used.
Next year could be the final season that the three best Designated Players in Toronto FC history play together. Giovinco’s contract and Michael Bradley’s contract both end at the conclusion of 2019, and Jozy Altidore’s contract ends just one year later. Assuming that Altidore remains for the upcoming campaign, the club has thirteen more months to maximize its return from their current DP trinity.
We all know what Bradley brings to this team, and where he is best-suited to play — no more centre-back stints, please! The club, however, needs to find a back-up for their captain to allow him to rest during what we all hope will be TFC’s busiest season ever. But, let’s save that for another article.
Altidore, if he remains healthy (and interested) has proven to be a big-time performer. His play during the 2016 and 2017 playoffs is the stuff of legend, and his Canadian Championship hat trick against Vancouver in 2018 only elevated his big-game status. But, Altidore is fickle. He pops in and out of games due to health reasons and, at times, a modest level of motivation. Let’s save that for another article as well.
Assuming that Bradley and Altidore are moving at full throttle, where is Seba best deployed?
As MLS defenders have become larger, faster and smarter, the diminutive one has drifted deeper into midfield. Through natural inclination, he routinely flows from central midfield to the left side, and back again. He plays cross-field balls to the right and cracks shots from near the top of the box. He often finds himself as the trailer — arms outstretched, looking for the cut-back pass. He has also played some truly sublime passes to his teammates, looking Victor Vazquez-esque at times. Seba, through sheer evolution, has defined his role on this team.
The club needn’t have splashed $1.3 Million on Ager Aketxe, or extended a half-million-dollar contract to Lucas Janson. In both instances, the need was for a central attacking midfielder, with a nose for goal, who could both fill Vazquez’s shoes when he was injured, and play alongside him when he was healthy. The preference was for a player who was comfortable subbing-in as a forward, and who could hit the ball with both feet. These needs remain entering 2019. Enter Seba: stage right!
Like Carlos Vela and Ignacio Piatti, Giovinco is now most dangerous when he supports the attack from just behind the front line. Just like these players, he can also jump to the front when necessary (no, really?!). In fact, Seba’s numbers from this past season are very similar to Vela’s and Piatti’s.
Not so surprising is his assists per 90 minutes. Seba’s 0.57 assists per 90 was good enough for third best in MLS. His 15 helpers put him only three back of league leader Borek Dockal, who played three more games than Giovinco. His assist rate this year was even higher than in 2015, when he led the league with 16 assists (0.52 per 90). These statistics are even more impressive when you consider Altidore’s extended absences.
Additionally, these stats say nothing of Gio’s two assists in just 67 minutes of Canadian Championship play and his three assists in the Champions League. They also say nothing of the sitters missed by his teammates, the most significant miss being Marky Delgado’s in Guadalajara, after Seba’s chip-cross landed like a butterfly with sore feet right in front of a yawning cage. In short, Seba is a playmaker supreme.
To work both Seba and VV into the midfield lineup will require a formation change. But that’s not a bad thing. Truthfully, after this year, Coach Vanney needs to tailor his tactics to the strengths (and weaknesses) of his players, rather than trying to force his players to fit an ill-suited formation. A 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, or even a 4-3-2-1, would allow for this to happen and would help reduce the need for unnecessary off-season spends on multiple wingers. Instead, the money could be spent on a strong, fast, proven striker who can fill in for Jozy when (not if) he gets injured.
If Vazquez is out due to injury, then keeping Seba at midfield would also allow Vanney to revert to one of his favourite formations — the 4-4-2, with Seba playing at the top of the diamond. Altidore and the “new guy” would then form the strike force.
Some may be of the opinion that since Seba is already such a good playmaker, there is nothing to change and things should be left as is. The hard fact is that this needs to be formalized in order to keep both player and teammates focused on specific roles so that he can be an even better playmaker. Formalizing this change also focuses management. As we all know, heading into this off-season, Toronto’s roster needs are many. But, there is no need to equip this team with another CAM-forward type. Right under their noses lies one of the best in North America. Spend the money wisely. It’s time for Number 10 to play the number ten.