TORONTO – It has been a strange few weeks for Sebastian Giovinco.
On the field, he's the boss, scoring and creating as Toronto FC's season stretches deep into the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Giovinco has four goals and two assists through three matches thus far, the most combined from any player in this postseason. But off it, he's been slighted. Twice.
First it was in the Landon Donovan MVP Award race, where he was shockingly absent from the list of final nominees. Then it was being left out of the Italian national team once more, a disappointment compounded by the accompanying comments about MLS from manager Giampiero Ventura.
Giovinco's agent, Toronto coach and teammates had their say last week, but asked on Tuesday about them, the star playmaker demurred.
“I'm not thinking about anything related to the national team right now. I'm focused on MLS Cup,” said Giovinco. “We are in the most important stage of the playoffs and that's all I have in my mind.”
Be that as it may, his displeasure at the MVP slight was taken out on New York City FC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, garnering his retribution by scoring three goals and notching an assist. Postmatch he denied the snub provided any additional motivation, albeit with a mischievous wink.
That stance has since softened.
“When I believe I deserve something – it doesn't make me happy not being elected in the three [MVP nominees]," said Giovinco. "It is a motivation, among the many others."
And after all, isn't stepping up when it matters most, leading your side to hitherto unforeseen heights, what an MVP is supposed to do?
“You can see his involvement, role in the team, start to grow the bigger the games get,” said TFC head coach Greg Vanney. “The progression, returning from injury to getting the three goals, has been part of his recovery, getting sharper, getting his legs under him. We saw the execution even better in the last game than before. He's finding his sweet spot and knows the stakes are high.”
Giovinco has been phenomenal since rejoining the side in the penultimate game of the season after a lengthy injury layoff, amassing five goals and four assists in five matches. But for Vanney, his worth goes beyond production.
“He carries [a] heavy weight in our group,” said Vanney. “When he says something it means a lot to the team, more than he even knows. There's real value in that.”
TFC hope that value will carry them to Montreal for the Eastern Conference Championship and beyond. And should Giovinco need any further impetus, the memory of last season's demise at the hands of the Impact is still fresh in the mind.
“Of course everybody remembers last year,” said Giovinco, referring to the 3-0 loss at Montreal in the 2015 Knockout Round. “Being eliminated from the playoffs by Montreal [stung]. Everybody keeps that in mind now and we're going to go there with that precise mentality ... to change that memory.”
Asked if he had anything special planned to evade Montreal's defensive swarm, Giovinco flashed an ominous smile.
“If I tell you, then everybody knows and will take measures against that.”