Wed. Oct. 14, BMO Field, Toronto
TFC 2, NEW YORK RED BULLS 1 (Att.: 18,143)
Overcast, cool; Game time temp.: 12 C/54 F
After playing a combined forty minutes over two games with the Italian National team in Euro 2016 qualifying, Sebastian Giovinco returned to Toronto on a flight from Rome on the afternoon of the match. Pre-game expectations were that he would not play any part in this match, particularly after a 28-minute stint for Italy in the Azzurri‘s come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Norway only 24 hours earlier.
In only his second appearance for Italy since October 2014, Giovinco proved his value to manager Antonio Conte and the Azzurri in that final qualifier, providing the cross that would ultimately lead to Alessandro Florenzi’s tying goal and then offering a pass to Florenzi, who supplied the cross that Graziano Pelle’ buried for the game-winning goal.
Less than three hours after stepping off a transatlantic flight, Giovinco looked fresh and lively in pre-game warm-up although he ended the session a few minutes earlier than his teammates, first taking a seat on the sidelines before returning to the locker room. He was included in the 18-man roster, starting the match on the bench.
“He got in at 3:45 (pm), that’s when his plane landed,” said Head Coach Greg Vanney. “He came straight to the stadium. He said he slept well on the plane.”
Having returned early from his US international commitments, TFC captain Michael Bradley seemed set to play but withdrew before the match with a mild groin strain. Vanney was forced to re-organize his starting XI and fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with Canadian Ashtone Morgan, normally a fullback, joining countryman Jonathan Osorio and US Youth international Marky Delgado as attacking midfielders in support of the lone striker, Herculez Gomez.
TFC began the match at a very high tempo with Morgan, Osorio and Delgado all attacking the Red Bull defense with energy and pace. At the opposite end, TFC’s defense looked well-organized, limiting Red Bulls to just a handful of half chances and minimizing the threats to Chris Konopka’s goal.
The best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell to TFC when, at the midway point of the first half, Gomez lofted a free kick into the area, Red Bull keeper Luis Robles palmed it off the chest of TFC defender Josh Williams and the ball fell wide of goal.
A bizarre and confusing situation in the 34th minute led to the sending off of Jozy Altidore, who was on the substitutes bench, for abusive language directed at the officials.
Then, just before the halftime whistle, TFC defender Damien Perquis came up lame after a challenge with a Red Bull and was forced off, replaced by Ahmed Kantari.
Three minutes after the restart, Giovinco started to warm up on the sidelines and you could sense the anticipation among the spectators.
Three minutes after that, TFC opened the scoring. Brazilian defender Jackson moved up from his fullback spot and crossed from the right, Red Bull defender Zubar misplayed it and the ball fell kindly to Gomez who beat Robles from point blank range. It was the American’s first goal in a TFC uniform.
As the clock approached the hour mark, Giovinco continued his warm-up but it consisted mostly of light jogging or simply standing and watching the play from behind the south goal.
Finally, after a 22-minute warm-up, Giovinco was called over to the TFC bench where he began stripping off his training kit. This time, there was a tangible buzz in the crowd as the anticipation of Seba entering the game rose.
In the 71st minute, Giovinco replaced Gomez and both players received rousing ovations.
Giovinco settled into the pace of the game quickly, darting here and there, touching the ball on a couple of brief occasions. But within seven minutes of stepping onto the field, he would create one of the most memorable moments in TFC club history. Giovinco’s stunning goal is eloquently described by Vanney in his post-game comments.
“He picked up the ball,” recalled Vanney, “and with his back to goal to start with, he gets on a half turn and starts weaving in and out of guys and faking shots and cutting guys. It was almost like they didn’t want to even be there.
“And to finish it with his left foot into the back post was not an easy shot so from beating four guys to putting it into the back of the side netting was amazing. And timely, because in some ways it took a little bit of the pressure off us and, in the end, obviously we needed it to get the three points but I’m very happy that he was adamant over the course of the week that he wanted to come back and play.”
When asked if it was the best goal he’d ever seen live, Vanney simply said: “Yes. Yes it is.”
While Giovinco refused to compare it with any other goal in his career, the significance of the tally was two-fold. It drew him level with Columbus Crew’s Kei Kamara for the league lead in goals (22) and game-winning goals (7).
In the 85th minute, Giovinco took a pass from Cheyrou along the right flank, then crossed into the area only to see it headed away by a Red Bull defender, but Cheyrou snapped up the rebound and struck a shot that Robles parried away for a corner.
Just a minute later, New York cut the deficit in half when Shaun Wright-Phillips intercepted a clearance from the TFC defense and rifled a shot past Konopka into the near bottom corner of the net.
Twice in added time, Giovinco collected the ball in the attacking third and simply tried to play keep-away while surrounded by Red Bulls and, on each occasion, he frustrated his opponents, drawing a foul both times.
Then, at the final whistle, Giovinco raised his hands in the air and, with a wide smile, led his teammates to the south stand where they celebrated their 15th win of the season and their first ever playoff berth with the club’s hard-core supporters, many of whom had been right in those same seats through the trials and tribulations of an eight-year playoff drought. Seba was mobbed by fans and teammates alike before he exited the field.
“It’s normal that when you feel loved, it’s a special thing,” Giovinco said about his relationship with TFC fans. “I don’t want to think of anything else, I’m just enjoying this moment.“
After the match, Vanney was asked if there was ever any doubt in his mind that he would play Giovinco.
“No. Not after having spoken with him,” said Vanney. “He texted immediately after the (Italy) game last night, he texted before getting on the plane, he texted when he landed, he hit me up as soon as he got here and he said he was ready to play. To be fair, I don’t know if I would have thrown him out there, but he really wanted to play and obviously he’s a difference maker.
“I just wanted him to touch the field,” Vanney continued. “If the game was in a position where we could take 3 points or we could secure ourselves into the playoffs, there was a good chance he was going to be on the field at the end. If, for any reason, the game kind of got away from us, I would not have put him on the field. We were in it to take the points and obviously he added his bit to it.”
When asked why he wanted to play in this game after such a short turnaround, Giovinco’s reply was typically unselfish: “I did it for the club, for the fans and my teammates,” he said.
“It was important to reach certain objectives,” added Giovinco. “I know what it means and I just wanted to lend a hand. I wanted to play from the beginning. I was pumped right from the start.”
“He cares about this team and the project that is getting us into the playoffs,” Vanney added. “Quite frankly, he wants to win the scoring title and we all want him to win it. There are a lot of things that are very motivating but the most important thing is he wants us to be successful. He knows that we’re fighting for the city and fans who haven’t seen playoffs yet so he wants to be part of that… that’s his main ambition.”
When asked to describe what the last 24 hours felt like, Seba replied simply: “Almost perfect. With the National Team we reached an important objective, it wasn’t easy to be first in our group. Tonight, we reached the playoffs for the first time, so it couldn’t have gone any better than this.”
Giovinco’s Key Moments:
48th – Starts warm-up
71st – Enters game for Gomez to huge ovation
78th – takes pass from Osorio in central area of attacking third, dribbles past 4 defenders before firing left footed shot into net to the left of Robles (22nd goal)
85th – takes pass from Cheyrou along right flank, runs to edge of area, crosses, headed away, shot from Cheyrou saved by Robles for corner
90+2 – collects ball on left flank, chased by 3 defenders and tripped, drawing foul
90+6 – takes pass from Jackson, runs to corner flag, is tripped, earns free kick
Giovinco’s Key Stats (via WhoScored.com)
Minutes played: 19
Total Shots: 1
Shots on target: 1
Passing Accuracy: 80%
Giovinco’s Match Rating: 9
Played only 25 minutes (including 6 of added time) but his brief appearance was highlighted by one of the most spectacular individual goals of this MLS season. Intelligent in added time when he shielded ball from defenders to kill off time and draw fouls. When you consider the emotion of playing for Italy only a day earlier, the physical stress of air travel and acclimating to a 6-hour time change, what he did on this night was nothing short of remarkable.
MVP Watch – League Stats:
Goals: 22 (T-1st)
Assists: 15 (T-1st)
Shots: 175 (1st)
Shots on Goal: 70 (1st)
Games remaining: 2
Giovinco’s Next Game:
Sat. Oct. 17 vs Columbus Crew SC, BMO Field, 2:00 pm ET