Sept. 26, BMO Field, Toronto
TFC 3, CHICAGO 2 (Att.:22,513)
With a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the visiting Chicago Fire, Toronto FC maintained its hold on fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and drew nearer to the club’s objective of securing a first ever MLS playoff spot. Meanwhile, Sebastian Giovinco continued his ascension towards the MLS MVP award in his debut season in the league by contributing two assists to give him 16 on the year. Combined with his 19 goals this season, Giovinco established a new record for total individual goals and assists, 35, breaking the old mark of 34 set by San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski three years ago.
The day didn’t start off well for TFC, however, who found themselves down a goal just 40 seconds into the match when Giovinco’s strike partner, US international Jozy Altidore, lost possession of the ball at the midfield stripe and the Fire broke quickly on a counterattack with former TFC striker Gilberto slipping in between the Reds’ two centre backs, Damien Perquis and Josh Williams, to score past TFC keeper Chris Konopka.
Giovinco immediately set about trying to even the score as, in the 4th minute, he collected a throw-in from Marky Delgado in the attacking zone, then cut towards the centre and struck a left footed shot from the top of the box that just missed the mark to the right of Fire keeper Jon Busch.
TFC’s play in the early stages of the match was erratic and sloppy and Greg Vanney’s side frequently turned the ball over to a Fire team that was intent on cutting off the host club’s passing lanes and serving the Brazilian Gilberto and veteran MLS forward Mike Magee with quick-strike outlets. But midway through the first half, TFC started to gain dominance in possession and the momentum began to sway in their favour.
In the 29th minute, a long outlet pass from captain Michael Bradley invited Giovinco to run into space to collect the ball. Fire defender Daneil Cyrus was first to it but the Atomic Ant’s harrassment forced Cyrus to give up a corner kick. On the resulting corner, Giovinco’s inswinger came off the head of Perquis and fell right back onto his right foot. From a near impossible angle, Seba struck the ball with the outside of his foot, it lofted over the head of Busch and nestled into the back of the net just inside the far post. Initially, the goal was credited to Giovinco but TV replays seemed to suggest that Canadian international Jonathan Osorio just skimmed the ball with his head before it crossed the goalline. The goal would have been Seba’s 20th which would have made him the first player in MLS history to reach 20 goals and 10 assists in one season. In his post-match comments, Osorio wouldn’t confirm or deny that he actually touched the ball but invited MLS headquarters to review the play and award the goal to Giovinco.
“I think the record was going to be broken anyways but he deserves for it to be broken today,” said the modest, unassuming Osorio.
“It takes a special quality to pull off something like that so it wasn’t a set-up, it was a goal and I think he took it very well.”
“I think the intention,” said Vanney, “was to put it over the goalkeeper and try to get guys to attack the goal or the goalkeeper. He’s not the biggest in the league, Jon Busch. He’s a very good goalkeeper but to hang one up over his head and hope for the best, whether that means the back post or somebody crashing in and getting a piece of it, I think the intention was a very good one. We might as well give him credit for it. He’s done a lot of amazing things over the course of the year so we might as well say he meant it and nobody would argue that too much.”
Credited with the assist, Giovinco officially equaled the mark set by Wondolowski. He came close to scoring on at least two more occasions before halftime but Busch was alert on each attempt.
Seven minutes into the second half, the TFC defense was again unlocked as Gilberto split the two central defenders once more and cashed in with a shot that beat Konopka, banking into the net off the inside of the near post.
But just seven minutes after that, TFC were again level. Giovinco dispossessed a Fire player at midfield and quickly laid the ball off to Bradley who galloped to the edge of the box where Giovinco, having continued his run, drew three defenders with him, allowing Bradley to step into the space that Seba vacated before firing into the net past Busch.
“We have a good feel for each other, a good relationship,” said Bradley after the match. “We have had that all year long. Certainly, when Jozy’s in there, the three of us have found good ways to move together and play together. It’s important in the attacking part of the field. We’re able to combine with each other, find each other in little spaces and begin to create some different opportunities from there.”
Ten minutes later, Giovinco’s over-aggressive challenge forced a Fire defender into the advertising boards beyond the end line, prompting referee Ismail Elfath to caution the Atomic Ant.
Then, in the 79th minute, Giovinco lifted another corner kick into the Fire goal area, the ball caromed off Altidore before the TFC striker bundled it into the net on a second effort to score the home side’s go-ahead goal. Initially credited with an assist, which would have been his third of the game, Giovinco’s name was suspiciously removed from the official scoresheet distributed at the end of the match.
When it was all said and done, however, Giovinco had, in fact, set a new league standard, one that Vanney insisted puts Giovinco on another stratosphere.
“We’ve said it from early this year that he’s one of, if not, the best player to ever play in the league,” Vanney proclaimed. “I think reaching that mark is justification for some of those comments early on. He can do a lot of things. When we brought him here we knew he was a forward, he could play a little bit of attacking midfield in this league and what you see is just that, he can create and he can score. He’s obviously tilted a little more toward the forward side but he also created a lot of opportunities for other players hence the assists number.”
“To be fair,” continued Vanney, “he probably could have a couple more of each, but he’s a special player and it’s good to have him on our side. I think it’s also a tribute to the team and the team’s support of him. You don’t often see guys lead the league in goals and assists on teams that are not very successful. You have to have a good supporting cast, you have to have good people around you that can help you get those things done.”
Giovinco refused to provide any comments after the match but, having now secured a National Team call-up and set a MLS record, all that’s left for Seba to crown what has been a remarkable debut season is the MLS MVP award and that appears ever closer just as TFC appear to be closer to securing the first ever post-season berth in club history.
Giovinco’s key moments:
4th – collects throw-in from Delgado, cuts to the middle, left foot shot from top of the box bends just wide of goal
13th – takes pass in box, spins, turns, shoots, shot blocked, 2nd shot blocked, 3rd effort deflected for corner
21st – takes pass from Morrow, mishits 1st time shot that bends away from goal and goes out for throw-in
29th – takes rebound from his own corner, flicks shot with outside of right foot over head of keeper, Osorio heads in to score at far post (15th assist)
32nd – dribbles past defender, plays give-and-go with Osorio, tries to tuck in underneath Busch but Fire keeper lunges at ball which deflects off Seba’s leg and out for goal kick
44th – takes pass from Osorio, turns past defender, runs into box, shot is beaten away by keeper for corner.
59th – Bradley takes pass from Giovinco, then uses him as a decoy before dribbling into area and scoring goal (16th assist)
★35 combined goals & assists sets new MLS scoring record
69th – earns yellow card for riding defender into end boards
72nd – fouled after high boot from Palmer; resulting free kick deflects off wall for corner
79th – takes corner – Altidore bundles ball into net on 2nd effort
Giovinco’s Key Stats: (via Opta Sports)
Total Shots = 8
Shots on Target = 3
Touches = 56
Total Passes = 20
Passing Accuracy = 80%
Giovinco’s Match Rating: 8.5
Interminable work rate, deceptive runs, close ball control, a willingness to strike at goal from any angle and another moment of dazzling brilliance resulting in a goal (which may yet end up being credited to him). The only flaw in his match, the yellow card for a bit of unnecessary petulance, but another outstanding performance from the Atomic Ant who continues to gain plaudits as a unanimous choice for MLS MVP.
MVP Watch – League Stats: (League ranking in brackets)
Goals: 19 (2nd)
Assists: 16 (1st)
Shots: 166 (1st)
Shots on Goal: 66 (1st)
Games remaining: 4
Giovinco’s Next Match:
Sat. Oct. 3 vs Philadelphia Union, BMO Field, 5:00 pm ET
UPDATE: MLS has since awarded the first goal of the match to Giovinco which adjusts his league totals now to 20 goals and 15 assists.