ATOMIC ANT: SEARCHING FOR A TORONTO CHAMPIONSHIP

by • April 28, 2017 • Blog, News, Preferred selectionsComments (0)1444

There has been a drought in Toronto between the major North American sports franchises that has lasted since 1993 when the Blue Jays last won the World Series. The Leafs haven’t hoisted a Stanley Cup in triumph since 1967 and although the Raptors have shown vast improvement, they have yet to come close to sniffing an NBA championship in their 22-year history.

Last December, the city’s hopes were renewed when Toronto Football Club (TFC) appeared en route to capturing the MLS Cup against the Seattle Sounders. TFC outplayed the Sounders throughout 120 minutes, with Seattle failing to register a single shot on the Toronto net. When the scoreless game went to a penalty shootout, the Sounders emerged 5-4 as the victors.

Beneath the sting of regret lies the possibility of redemption, as a more poignant focus is on the man who almost singlehandedly contributed to TFC’s rising fortunes—the Italian striker widely considered the most valuable player in the entire MLS: Sebastian Giovinco.

Giovinco came to Toronto from famed club Juventus in 2015 at a hefty price-tag— $7,115,556 annually, making him the second-most expensive player in the league after Orlando City’s Brazilian star Kaká.

With the 2017 season underway, I met with Giovinco in a Queen West condo to gain a deeper understanding of his passion for the game.

Standing 5’4”, Giovinco, who is nicknamed “The Atomic Ant” graces the room with a gentle smile, slowly taking in his surroundings.

Born in Turin, Italy, Giovinco was raised in a nearby small town called Beinasco.

“When I was a kid I spent a lot of time in the south especially during summer in Calabria with my grandparents,” says Giovinco, “I’m happy to come back there for some days with my family when I can.”

His introduction to soccer happened almost by accident at the age of seven.

“A friend of mine asked me to go to a game, and the other team was short one player. I was at an age when I could play, and that’s how I started playing.”

He began playing for famed Turin-based club Juventus in 2006. Although Juventus won multiple titles in the Serie A league, the difficulty in securing a place in the team’s starting line-up acted as a catalyst to inspire a move to a new team abroad.

“I wanted to change my life. I wanted to change everything,” explained Giovinco. “TFC was the first team to call me with an offer to come here.”

“I don’t feel good when I lose,” he says, opening up. “I couldn’t give Toronto the championship it deserved after all these years.”

 

His debut season with TFC in 2015 saw him take multiple honors from being named MLS’s MVP to the prestigious Golden Boot awarded to the highest scoring player. Most critically, TFC made the playoffs for the first time in the club’s history.

Despite all the accolades, Giovinco is able to remain a more low profile in Toronto than he can maintain in Italy where soccer is something of an obsession. While North American audiences are still learning the intricacies of soccer, European nations have hardened fans who live and breathe for the sport. This can make life difficult for the players.

“In Italy, the people live for soccer. So I can’t go out like here. I have more privacy here.”

He is the kind of warm person who finds his energy and charm reciprocated in social situations. During the Preferred photo shoot, the photographer gushes about how her boyfriend is of Italian descent while the make-up artist and wardrobe stylist swoon.

Nonchalant and unassuming, he accepts instructions as the father of two is trotted through different wardrobe changes.

“Smile!” the photographer commands, as he obliges.

There’s still a fierceness to his gaze that penetrates through the camera lens. Something wild inside that he’s learned to harness. Yet some things are out of his control.

2016 was a difficult year for Giovinco. Injuries kept him sidelined for four long yearsi, and the MLS Cup final against Seattle left bitter feelings.

“I don’t feel good when I lose,” he says, opening up. “I couldn’t give Toronto the championship it deserved after all these years.”

The loss to Seattle was not the only down moment of the year. There were some hurt feelings when Giovinco found himself placing fourth in the MLS MVP voting.

In ESPN’s FC MLS Confidential 2017 poll, a whopping 80% of respondents comprised of 140 MLS players representing 21 of the 22 teams felt that Giovinco should have been named among the top three MVP finalists for 2016.

“I don’t think about it anymore,” he says of the omission.

Most impressively, 15% of players picked Giovinco in the category of “If your life is on the line for a player to make a penalty kick” (18% of the voters picked themselves).

As soccer is a global sport, Giovinco could have success in one of the many leagues internationally. During the off-season, rumors buzzed around that he was offered a contract in China’s burgeoning Super League.

“There was an offer for me from China,” Giovinco says, “but I love Toronto and I preferred to stay here.”

It is doubtful that if an offer materialized for Giovinco to play abroad that TFC management would give the nod. He is three years into a five-year contract, and TFC’s status as a top dog in MLS completely hinges on the Italian’s skills.

High hopes need to be measured against many other factors—chiefly, Giovinco’s health. He missed six games in 2016 due to quadriceps and abductor strains. 2017 has not opened with the most favorable of results: he suffered a contusion on his IT band in the third game of the season that has forced him to take some time out.

Nothing is written in stone, and there could be many more surprises awaiting TFC throughout this season. One thing is certain, and that’s that Giovinco wants to bring Toronto the championship the city richly deserves.

“We have to try to win,” he says, “This year we have to win. We have to take this one.”

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