TORONTO – Saturday was a special day for Sebastian Giovinco.
Shortly after his club officially confirmed his return to the Italian national team for a pair of upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers, the attacker collected his 13th assist of the season to help Toronto FC bag a vital three points against Canadian rivals the Montreal Impact in the midst of the Reds' playoff chase.
The diminutive striker has set MLS alight, notching 17 goals to go with his bushel of assists (13) through 25 matches, and has been justly rewarded with a place in Antonio Conte's recently-announced Azzurri side for UEFA qualifying matches against Malta on Thursday and Bulgaria on Sept. 6.
Giovinco left Saturday's match in the 51st minute due to what TFC coach Greg Vanney called "some soreness in his adductor" and traveled directly to the airport, so was not available to speak to the media. But in a video interview released by TFC, he said he was pleased, though not surprised, to get Conte's call.
“I am very happy; given my performance I kind of expected the call," he said. "It means that I have worked well up to now. But the hardest thing is to remain on the squad and I hope to keep playing this way.”
Giovinco also acknowledged the importance of Italy's upcoming matches, with next summer's tournament just around the corner.
“We have to win," he said. "They're two very difficult games, but Italy has to win because of our winning tradition.”
For TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, Conte's recognition is not only a product of Giovinco's hard work and attacking flair, but also a stepping stone for MLS.
“For the world to see that Seba is playing in Major League Soccer, with a club like Toronto FC, will help us reach the next level; a global scale," said Bezbatchenko. "For a national team like the Italian national team – multiple World Cup winners – to call him into a critical juncture, leading up to the Euros, is really a benchmark for the league.”
Giovinco's injury worries may yet complicate his hopes of playing a role in the Azzurri's qualifiers. But he'll report to camp nonetheless.
“We've been treating it a bit over the course of the week, and he started feeling it progress a little bit in the game,” said Vanney. “He's still going to travel to Italy and they will assess him when they get there and he'll make a decision.”