Aug. 22, BMO Field, Toronto, ON
Toronto FC 5 – Orlando City SC (Attendance: 26,397)
The Atomic Ant marches on! Sebastian Giovinco was a key figure once again for Toronto FC as the host club pounded the visiting Orlando City Lions 5-0 in MLS action on a warm, sun-soaked Saturday afternoon at BMO Field. A spectacular free kick goal (undoubtedly a Goal of the Week candidate again), a second assist on a superbly set-up third goal, and a rousing ovation from the TFC fans when he was substituted in the 77th minute highlighted another outstanding performance from the Italian striker who seems to be on a mission to re-write the MLS record books in his first season in the league.
Giovinco’s day began in a relatively unfamiliar position, as he slotted alone up top in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Normally deployed as a second striker to US international Jozy Altidore, Giovinco was given the task of leading the front line on his own as TFC Head Coach Greg Vanney preferred to leave Altidore on the bench. Captain Michael Bradley, Canadian Jonathan Osorio and US Youth International Marky Delgado formed the three-man attacking midfield in support of Seba.
The first half proved frustrating for Giovinco as Orlando played a high defensive line, forcing TFC to try to float balls over the top, which were easily picked off by the capable centre back tandem of Collin and Mateos. That tactic allowed the diminutive TFC forward very few spaces to exploit.
Still, Giovinco did have two good looks at goal, both from free kicks some 35 yards out, but he missed the target on both occasions, with the second one spraying high and well wide of the goal.
Midway through the half, Giovinco was shown a yellow card for a cynical foul on an Orlando defender trying to start a breakout and, at the half hour mark, in his only direct confrontation with his opposite number Kaka, he won a throw-in. Overall, it was a less than inspiring first half from Seba and coach Greg Vanney assessed the reasons for the striker’s inability to produce more.
“I thought that (Orlando) were attentive to the spaces that he likes to move into,” Vanney said in his post-game comments. “But we neutralize him when the ball moves too slow. When our guys don’t move the ball quick enough, the end result is when Sebastian gets the ball, he doesn’t have the time to face up and go at somebody because everybody else takes the time away that he needs to do his thing.”
There was an incident late in the first half that would have a direct effect on the outcome of the game when Orlando defender Rafael Ramos lunged at the feet of TFC’s Justin Morrow and was shown a straight red card by referee Jose Carlos Rivero.
At the start of the second half, TFC seemed more determined to step up the tempo of the game and, within 40 seconds of the re-start, the Reds took the lead. Captain Michael Bradley stole a backpass at midfield, then sprinted down the left flank with teammates in support. Using Giovinco as a decoy in the middle, Bradley drew three defenders towards him before cutting the ball back to Marky Delgado who netted past Orlando keeper Tally Hall.
That goal seemed to inspire Giovinco as, five minutes later, the Italian striker beat a defender to cut inside the box, then stumbled but managed to stay on his feet before firing a strike off the side netting.
Then, just five minutes after that, Seba drew a foul on the edge of the Orlando goal area. The referee called a free kick in favor of TFC and issued a yellow card to the culprit, Orlando midfielder Adrian Winter, which would have ramifications later in the match. There was no question among the fans in attendance that this was going to be Seba’s moment and he didn’t disappoint. Giovinco unleashed a bending, swerving strike from 20 yards that slammed off Hall’s left post and caromed into the back of the net for Seba’s 17th goal of the season. Giovinco celebrated the goal with the hardcore TFC supporters in the south stand.
Over the next quarter hour, in part because of the man advantage, TFC continued to provide Giovinco more service and he, in turn, found more space to create havoc in the Orlando penalty area. The collective team play produced, in the 71st minute, a sensational third goal, the culmination of a 47-pass sequence that saw Bradley exchange short passes with Giovinco before passing across goal to Morrow who had a simple tap-in.
“The third goal for me was outstanding,” Vanney said. “You see how ball movement forces people to come out and make defensive plays, spaces open up and eventually it ends up in a tap-in at the back side and it’s because we just kept the ball moving. It was a pretty simple goal, but it was a piece of art in my opinion.”
“Seba’s a good player”, Bradley said in his post-game comments. “Good players are fun to play with. The more that we’re able to find each other in moments like that when the ball starts to move a little bit quicker, when the movement is good, then good things happen.”
Six minutes after the third goal, Vanney decided Giovinco had done enough for the day and elected to substitute him with Robbie Findley. Seba left the pitch to a standing ovation from the crowd, an expression of affection he doesn’t take lightly. “It’s important for everybody when you are in the fans’ hearts. It’s a lot easier,” Giovinco said.
Even though he wasn’t on the field, Giovinco’s influence was still to be felt as, five minutes after he departed, his substitute Findley was brought down in the penalty area by Winter, who earned a second yellow card and an ejection from the match, forcing Orlando to play the rest of the game with only 9 men. Jozy Altidore, who had come on only ten minutes earlier, converted the penalty. Altidore would add a second goal three minutes after that to complete the 5-0 shutout.
After the match, Giovinco was reflective about his new role and his overall performance. “I try to adapt in any formation,” he said, “but it’s obvious when you’re playing with an extra man, it’s all much easier.”
“A few things went our way,” added Giovinco, “and when we were able to break the deadlock, it was all very simple from that point.”
Vanney emphasized how quick ball movement is the fundamental aspect to getting Seba involved in the action. “It’s important for us to move the ball quickly,” the TFC manager said, “so that when it gets to Sebastian, he has the time in key areas to make a difference and we gave him more of that in the second half. A lot of that is because we score and things open up and variables over a game change and, in the end, he does what he does.”
The five-goal outburst was a first for TFC in the club’s 9-year MLS history. On a record-setting day for TFC, Giovinco again drew nearer to his own potential record-setting marks at season’s end.
Giovinco’s Key Moments:
4th minute – Struck free kick from 35 yards just wide to the right of the keeper
7th – after collecting pass inside box from Osorio, challenged by Collin slide tackle, won corner
23rd – took pass from Cheyrou, cross into box was headed away; on Orlando re-start, committed foul and shown yellow card
29th – midfield challenge with Kaka, won throw-in
31st – free kick from 35 yards, right foot strike was well off target, high and wide to the left of keeper.
46th –Bradley stole the ball at midfield, ran down left flank using Giovinco as a decoy, played ball back to Delgado for TFC’s 1st goal
51st – cutting in from the right, beat defender, stumbled but stayed on his feet, struck right foot shot off side netting
55th – took pass from Bradley, tripped at edge of the box by Winter, who earned yellow card
57th – free kick from 20 yards, left of centre of the box, bending right foot strike in off post for TFC’s 2nd goal
59th – collected ball in midfield, spread wide right to Delgado, took return pass from Bradley, shot deflected for corner
67th – Nice give-and-go with Bradley, flicked lob pass for Osorio who couldn’t get a shot off
71st – returned pass to Bradley who took it to the byline before crossing for Morrow for TFC’s 3rd goal (2nd assist)
77th – replaced by Robbie Findley, received standing ovation
Giovinco’s Key Stats: (via WhoScored.com)
Total Shots = 6
Shots on target = 1
Goals = 1
Passes = 21
Passing Accuracy = 90%
Touches = 43
Fouls = 2
Dribbles Won = 2
Giovinco’s Match Rating:
8.5 (out of 10) – His movements in the first half were limited due to Orlando holding a steady and high defensive line. He was frustrated by the tactic and often implored his teammates to feed him the ball over top of the defensive line. That frustration culminated in a yellow card midway through the first half. He was more mobile and active in the second half and had significantly more touches. His movement through the middle to force defenders back indirectly led to the game’s first goal. His free kick goal was another work of art, with his right foot shot swerving around the wall and clipping the inside of the right post before dropping into the net. His quick touch pass to Bradley led directly to the third goal. It started slowly for him but, in the end, it was another masterful performance from the “Atomic Ant”.
Giovinco’s Next Game:
Saturday Aug. 29, 4:00 pm (ET) vs Montreal at BMO Field in Toronto. Giovinco will likely face newly-acquired Impact striker Didier Drogba for the first time in his MLS career.