One could choose from any of a multitude of images to define the 2015 MLS season: New York Red Bulls hoisting the Supporters Shield or Portland Timbers bringing the MLS Cup home to the Pacific Northwest are obvious candidates.
But for many, the defining feature of that campaign has to be the exploits of one Sebastian Giovinco, a newcomer to the league, who soared into rarefied air, earning plaudits, records, and awards with his irrepressible talent and inimitable style.
On the eve of his second season with Toronto FC, MLSsoccer.com sat down with Giovinco to get better acquainted with the Italian superstar.
He set new standards
When Giovinco's signing with the Canadian side was announced on January 19, 2015, it was heralded as a new milestone for MLS, enticing a player in the peak of his career to leave Europe and embark on a new challenge in North America.
Giovinco did not disappoint, scoring 22 goals and amassing 16 assists, to top both scoring categories – Kei Kamara scored just as many goals, but Giovinco's combined tally earned him the Golden Boot and set a new mark in MLS, surpassing Chris Wondolowski's 2012 high-mark of 34 goals and assists.
Leading TFC to their first-ever playoff appearance, Giovinco was rewarded with individual honors – collecting the MLS Newcomer of the Year Award, a spot in the MLS Best XI, and the Landon Donovan MVP Award – but narrowly missed out on the MLS Goal of the Year Award for his scintillating run against the Red Bulls.
All told, it was quite the season:
And he's picked up where he left off
Through five preseason appearances, Giovinco has already notched four goals, proving that a few weeks off has done little to quell his desire to find the back of the net.
Each of those four exhibited the different ways Giovinco can do damage, including another direct free-kick, added to his ever-growing collection of dead-ball specials, against Cal State Fullerton:
He then added a calm finish against Ventura County Fusion, latching onto a Benoit Cheyrou ball over the top and registered a brace against MLS opposition, LA Galaxy. His first was a low strike across the keeper, having found space at the near-post; the second, a stunning curler into the top corner:
He contains multitudes
Born of Southern lineage [a Silician father and Calabrian mother] in the Northern city of Torino, Giovinco grew up an AC Milan fan, only shifting his allegiance well after joining the Juventus FC youth system in 1996, at 9 years old.
A diminutive figure in the world's biggest game, a sublime maestro in an age of athleticism and speed, a European star in his prime, paving new ground in MLS.
He is the embodiment of contradiction.
An early trophy holds a special place
When asked of a cherished football memory after training in February, Giovinco responded, “Winning a trophy with the youth team in Juventus was a good memory, [my] first trophy as a kid, a teenager.”
It was a reference to winning the Campionato Primavera with Juventus in the 2005-06 season, a campaign that catapulted him into the first team the following year.
“Thanks to that, I won more important trophies with Juve and the first team,” recalled Giovinco.
Others have idols, Giovinco had fantasy
It is not uncommon for professional athletes to easily recount the figures who they idolized as they grew, but Giovinco eschewed such platitudes, stating instead, “I didn't have a specific idol, I was always looking at the No. 10 position.”
In Italy, such playmakers are often referred to as the fantasista, and as Giovinco explained, “[They are] usually the [most] skilled player.”
“[I] was looking at them,” he reiterated, a focused study that has undoubtedly paid off.
The transition to North America has been seamless
“Everything is fine and I'm happy here,” said Giovinco in response to whether he missed anything from Italy.
In the modern era, most comforts can be transported, their shipment arranged, but there was one major difference between the life of an Italian player at home and abroad that Giovinco noted carefully: The lifestyle.
“Here it is totally different,” explained Giovinco. “Which [I] like,” he emphasized, referring to the ability to be out of the spotlight between matches and just live a normal life, walk around town with his family and friends.
“That's what makes players want to come here – you can have a life beside soccer.”
And family time is important
His partner and his son have joined him on this MLS journey, making the big move from Italy to the shores of Lake Ontario.
Then two-year old, Jacopo was able to join his father on the stage at the Air Canada Centre in December as dad collected his well-deserved MVP award.
Landon I am honoured to receive the first MVP award with your name on it. I hope to achieve similar success like you did in MLS. I also would like to share all my awards and this special one with my team, the club, the city and all my fans @mls @torontofc @inariasoccer @tiffanyandco @patekaholic @porschecentreoakville @palzileri @landondonovan10 #myfamily #toronto #allcity #mvp #landondonovan #palzileri #palzileri_avantcraft #jack #beautifulday #perfect #friends #allforone #comeonyoureds
“It was a great moment, a great memory,” said Giovinco of sharing the spotlight with his boy.
“Those are memories that you keep with you forever,” he continued. “Once you're older, you're going to remember, smile, and laugh about it.”
Not the only Giovinco in the Beautiful Game
Younger brother Giuseppe currently plays for Lega Pro side Savona FBC in the Italian third division.
Does Sebastian ever dream of the two Giovinco brothers sharing a pitch together?
“Yes, of course it would be nice. But this is a dream,” he admitted – before adding quickly, “You never know in soccer.”
Hopes to represent Italy at the Euros
Following a nearly year-long absence, Giovinco was recalled to the national team on the back of his performances in MLS last August, only for injury to scupper that chance. Come October he made his triumphant return, featuring in matches against both Azerbaijan and Norway. In each he was introduced as a substitute and made near-immediate impacts on the result, helping ensure Italy a place in the upcoming competition.
With France set to host the 2016 edition, Giovinco aspires to be with the squad once more, and he, unlike some, enjoys the focus/boredom-inducing isolation of a tournament.
“Those moments are the ones soccer players are waiting for because it's such a great, important competition,” explained Giovinco.
“Everything related to that is nice,” he continued. “Spending a lot of time with your teammates helps create a better group. [I] was lucky to experience those situations.”
Willing to suffer for his art
Giovinco is an aficionado of ink, proudly covered in numerous tattoos, including a striking eye on the back of his neck – reportedly a life-like facsimile of his partner's.