TORONTO—When Juventus FC take to the pitch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Wednesday, it will be a special reunion for one of the MLS' biggest stars.
Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco learned his trade with the Italian giants, spending a decade in the academy and then nine seasons with the first team, albeit on loan with Empoli FC and Parma FC for three of them.
“I'm very excited to meet again my old friends,” Giovinco said last week of the impending reunion. “It will be a nice moment to see everybody. We'll try to have as much fun as possible.”
Giovinco traces his footballing roots back to a dusty pitch in his hometown, Turin, and his local youth club, San Giorgio Azzuri.
It was there, at age 6 or 7 that he first caught the football bug, and also the eye of a scout who invited him to try out for Juventus.
“[In the beginning, it] was always to have fun,” Giovinco said. “Then became like work. For me, was a very beautiful experience. It was good.”
From that dirt and chalk to the training grounds of one of the biggest clubs in the world. The transition was not without its costs.
“It was difficult because I left all my friends. But then I met other friends and with them I grew up,” Giovinco said. “Not difficult, was fun.”
One of those friends from the academy, Claudio Marchisio, is still at Juventus and will be part of the roster that tours North America.
Giovinco remembers those days fondly: “We won a lot with the academy.”
The Viareggio tournament in 2005, the Campionato Nazionale Primavera in the 05-06 season, the Supercoppa Primavera in 2006, and the Coppa Italia Primavera in 2007, to name but a few of his honors from those days.
It was shortly after that when his most cherished memory occurred.
“The best part was my debut with the first team,” Giovinco said. “That was the best moment.”
Giovinco made his debut on May 12, 2007 in a Serie B match against Bologna at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin. He came off the bench in the 31st minute to replace Raffaele Palladino and registered an assist with a lovely ball for David Trezeguet in the 47th minute. Juventus won 3-1.
All these years later, Giovinco never thought he would cross paths with the club in North America of all places.
“No, no, no,” he said, laughing at the prospect.
However, he has played against Juventus before, scoring a brace against his parent club while on loan with Parma in 2011. He would do so again the following season. Notably, he did not celebrate any of those strikes.
Giovinco while on loan at Parma in 2011 | Reuters
Will he pay that same respect should he find the back of the net on Wednesday?
“The game is only for fun,” said Giovinco. “It's important, but not like a final. It's a friendly match, so I don't know.”
Come 2015, Giovinco decided a new challenge was in his future, moving to North America, signing for Toronto FC.
It was not the decision to leave his homeland itself that was difficult.
“It was difficult because me and my family we changed our lives completely,” Giovinco said. “After a bit, we started to know Toronto, and then it became simple.”
He has maintained his links to his old club: “Yeah, I talk with some guys.”
And though he still tracks their results, it is not the same.
“I follow, but not like when you play with the team,” said Giovinco. “You follow because you have some friends.”
As for the massive news of Cristiano Ronaldo transferring from Real Madrid to Juventus, Giovinco said: “For Juve, for all Italy, for the movement, it's a big transfer.”
Since coming to MLS, Giovinco has taken the league by storm. In 103 matches, he has 60 goals and 46 assists. Winning the MLS Golden Boot, MLS Newcomer of the Year, and MLS MVP in 2015. Last season, he was part of the first domestic treble in league history, as TFC won the Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup and Canadian Championship.
This will be his fourth-straight MLS All-Star game.
At Juventus, the overriding message was to win, something Giovinco brought with him to Toronto.
“I think yes, no?” replied Giovinco. “In three years, we've made three finals (including this season's Concacaf Champions League run). We lost two; we won one. We did a good job.”
With 13 matches remaining, Toronto are looking to push for a playoff position having struggled since the end of their unsuccessful to the final of the Concacaf Champions League, where they were a penalty kick away adding a fourth trophy as continental champions.
“It's a difficult moment,” said Giovinco. “Now that players start to come back from injury, maybe we can make the playoffs.”