ORLANDO, Fla. – They were teammates in the Juventus youth academy, then for the Italy U-21 team and finally, in the full national team in Euro 2012. Both have been told they were not wanted by their clubs, only to battle back and prove the doubters wrong on numerous occasions.
So no one is more acutely aware of the danger posed by Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco than Orlando City SC midfielder Antonio Nocerino. With the two teams set to meet one another Wednesday night in Camping World Stadium (7:30 pm ET; TSN4 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US), Nocerino was asked to sum up the diminutive TFC striker’s impact on the league.
“Giovinco has demonstrated just about everything there is about a great soccer player,” Nocerino said. “He has won in Italy, he has won here. He deservedly won the MVP award last season.
“He is, in my opinion, the strongest player MLS has ever had.”
Whether the 5-foot-4 native of Turin is actually ‘The Greatest’ in league history is obviously open to debate, but Nocerino knows all about his countryman’s goalscoring record since the ‘Atomic Ant’ moved to Canada at the beginning of the 2015 season.
Giovinco has bagged 38 goals in 57 appearances to date – a strike rate that, if it continues, would allow him to eclipse Landon Donovan’s MLS record 144 goals by a massive 78 if he played the same number of games. And few players are better qualified to evaluate Giovinco than Nocerino – whom Toronto considered acquiring last year, before Orlando City snapped him up in February.
“We both spent many years together in Turin in Italy,” Nocerino explained. “We played for the Juventus academy for many years together, so we do go [a long way] back. And Giovinco has always had this ability. He is so quick and he can score from anywhere.”
While the duo remain close off the field, they do not usually get together to discuss league matters, however.
“No, since I moved here, we end up talking about a lot of things, but almost everything except soccer,” Nocerino said. “We generally tend to talk about family, and how each other’s families are doing, what everybody is getting up to, the kids in school and all these different things.”
Nocerino has become a lineup fixture under head coach Jason Kreis in recent weeks, but he was still stuck on the bench when Orlando beat Toronto 3-2 at Camping World Stadium in June, so he has yet to face off with his good friend in MLS play. He has fond memories, though, of the last time the two directly opposed each other, in October 2011. Both got on the scoresheet, but Nocerino's AC Milan routed Giovinco’s Parma 4-1 and Nocerino notched his only Serie A hat trick.
Wednesday, he said, he can do without the hat trick – just getting a win will do.
“Sebastian is a great champion and a great performer,” Nocerino said. “But I hope I am the one winning again tomorrow.”