TORONTO – The best season in MLS history? Sebastian Giovinco certainly has a compelling case.
The numbers – 22 goals and 15 assists, including seven game-winners – speak for themselves. The moments – a “Did you see that?” hat-trick at Yankee Stadium, an AT&T Goal of the Year contender uncorked hours after a trans-Atlantic flight, and a first-ever playoff berth for Toronto FC – have captured MLS’s imagination.
The complete package even has opposing coaches – men who make it their mission to stop players of Giovinco’s stature – considering the Atomic Ant’s place in league history.
"You could easily say, ‘Yes [it’s been the best season ever by an MLS player],’” Earthquakes head coach Dom Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “And not just because of the stats, but because of the quality of his goals.
"He beats you with free kicks, [in the] run of play ... in so many different ways,” he added. “Not a lot of guys can beat three and four [defenders] and score, and he’s done that more than a handful of times this year.”
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With one match remaining and Chris Wondolowski's record-setting mark of 34 combined goals and assists from 2012 (27 goals and seven assists) is already in the rearview mirror. The Italian’s attacking production is already unparalleled.
According to fellow Toronto FC forward Herculez Gomez, who was also witness to Carlos Ruiz’s 24-goal campaign in 2002, there’s much more to Giovinco’s season than the eye-popping numbers.
“I've been around guys who have had very dominant seasons, but their importance to the team wasn't as Seba's is to us,” Gomez said. “Ruiz's first season, he was on an absolute tear, putting away everything. But he depended a lot on service.
"That's the difference with Seba. He's not only scoring goals, [but] creating them, dishing off assists. When he's not on the assist, he's the creator of the ball in the midfield, the first outlet pass. It's the weight factor of what he does.”
Could he have done even more with a little more help? Gomez thinks so.
“I know it doesn't sound right, but if we were a better team for Seba, he would be getting more notoriety," said Gomez. "I don't think people realize just how special he is.”
This about a player who’s been on the lips of MLS fans and observers all season long, earning three MLS Player of the Week awards and two Etihad Airways MLS Player of the Month honors.
All the more surprising then may be that Giovinco’s won only a single AT&T Goal of the Week award, despite having 10 goals nominated for consideration. Last Wednesday’s effort, a weaving run that left four New York Red Bulls defenders in the dust before a left-footed shot found side netting, was immediately labeled an AT&T Goal of the Year favorite.
Said Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid: “The goal was world class.”
Jesse Marsch, the coach whose team was beaten by that spectacular effort and another person who has been around the league since it began, tempered his opinion with a “maybe” but put Giovinco’s 2015 squarely in the conversation.
“He’s had a great year,” Marsch said. “The best year of any player, maybe of all time, in the history of MLS.”
Of course, the man who’s seen it unfold up close – TFC boss Greg Vanney, himself a member of the inaugural class of '96 – is duly impressed as well. Unlike his counterparts, however, he hopes Giovinco will take 2015 to even greater heights.
“It's one of the most exciting performances over the course of a year that any player has ever had in our league,” Vanney said. “Only to be outdone by himself next year... or in the playoffs. I'll take that.”