TORONTO – There were smiles all around on Wednesday morning at the Air Canada Centre as all eyes focused on center ice for an announcement many knew was coming: Sebastian Giovinco would be named the 2015 Landon Donovan MVP.
It was a unique mid-day setting for the ceremony, with the sights and sounds of a typical game-day absent, but it was a packed house nonetheless to honor Toronto FC’s dynamic Italian attacker.
“I am very, very happy for this award,” a beaming Giovinco said in English. “And I would like to win more.”
Giovinco, through his translator, went on to thank the club, his teammates and the city for his historic season, before promising that “[I] will try [my] best to make sure that next year [we] will win another and [something for] the team as well.”
“There is a new energy in Toronto: it is winning,” smiled the Italian maestro.
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Luke Wileman of TSN, serving as master of ceremonies, summed up the reason for the love that Giovinco has generated this season in his opening remarks.
“One of things that has really impressed me about Sebastian,” explained Wileman, “has been that he has done everything with a smile. The character that he has brought, both on and off the pitch, has been a real asset to Toronto FC and Major League Soccer.”
It was fitting, as noted by MLS Executive Vice President Todd Durbin, who was on hand to present the renamed award, that the first-ever Landon Donovan MVP Award went to such a dynamic attacking player.
In 33 appearances, Giovinco amassed a stunning 22 goals and 16 assists, winning the 2015 Audi Golden Boot and setting a new high for combined goals and assists in a single MLS season. He first put his name on the scoresheet in his debut, slotting an inch-perfect ball for Jozy Altidore in Vancouver, and never looked back.
From then on, his season was an unending highlight reel, shifting from one unbelievable moment to the next. Whether from dead balls or the run of play, Giovinco was a threat, leaving defenders and goalkeepers scratching their heads at how to prevent the ball from finding the back of the net.
It finally culminated in a goal against New York Red Bulls, mere hours after returning from duty with the Italian national team duty, for which his season will be most remembered. Not only for its sheer audacity, beating half the Red Bulls team before driving a finish past Luis Robles, this season's Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, but for what it meant to the club: clinching a first-ever playoff berth.
The MVP trophy, for which he beat out Kei Kamara and Benny Feilhaber, joins the 2015 Newcomer of the Year award and a place in the MLS Best XI in Giovinco's plaudits, while “that” goal against the Red Bulls is one of the final two in the running for the 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year.
In his 20 years of following the league, TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said he had never seen a player like Giovinco, calling his campaign “unprecedented.”
“The way he does it... with flair, his nimble ability to get around defenders and his knack for the spectacular,” explained Bezbatchenko. “That's when you realize that you have a special talent.”
That “infectious smile,” as head coach Greg Vanney called it, was the trademark of Giovinco's season, before pointing to the “natural” embrace that developed between player and city as a reason for his runaway success.
“He assumed that passion for the city, and the city embraced him,” said Vanney.
What was there not to love about a player who at any moment could drop a sublime piece of skill or shirk any defender, to score a cracking goal, only to be bettered by the next one? Fans were on the edge of their seats whenever the ball was on Giovinco's foot.
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Justly, it was an affection that grew in both directions, especially from the large Italian community in the Toronto area.
“It was a great surprise,” said Giovinco of the old-country comforts in his new home. “When you change your life, your team, your club, at the beginning, everything is a little bit tougher. It was nice; it was easier to share everything. [I'm] also very happy about the city itself; [I've] had a lot of support.”
Primary amongst his fans were his family, sitting in the front row, with whom he was more than happy to share the spotlight. His young son, Jacopo, joined Giovinco on stage for some pictures with the shining trophy.
“It's unique... magic, sharing this moment with your family is unbelievable,” said Giovinco. “Maybe one day [my] son can take the same path as [I] did.”