Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco celebrate - Toronto FC - July 30, 2017
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

As Jozy Altidore returns for Toronto FC, so does Sebastian Giovinco's form

TORONTO – 2018 has not gone to plan for Toronto FC.

Reveling in the glory of a treble-winning campaign, moments after lifting the MLS Cup last December, Sebastian Giovinco said this year would be the time to confirm that TFC are the best.

Past the midway point in the new season, that aspiration has not been met.

Toronto currently sit nine points outside of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference with 14 games remaining, a precipitous fall from last year's record-setting feats. And Giovinco's production has dropped as well.

In 17 matches, he has scored five goals and added nine assists. To match last season's output, he will need to score 11 goals in his next 600 minutes on the pitch. And to approach his MVP campaign in 2015, Giovinco would need to play every minute remaining, registering 17 more goals and seven more assists.

Granted, his role at TFC has changed over the years. He is no longer looked to to score every goal, but coming off a Golden Ball performance in the Concacaf Champions League, where he notched four goals and three assists in eight matches, the decline has been noticeable.

For Giovinco, the reason is plain.

“When you miss six or seven players for two, three months, it's tough to play,” said Giovinco on Tuesday. “Everybody knows this.”

As Toronto's injury crisis has started to lift, Giovinco seems to be returning to his glorious ways.

In the last four matches, he has two goals and two assists. And his strike against the Chicago Fire in Saturday's 2-1 win at Toyota Park was vintage stuff.

“Now everybody starts [to get] back on the field, the results will be better for the next couple months,” Giovinco predicted.

Despite lower statistics, Giovinco has contended with Jonathan Osorio for TFC's most important player this season. The problem has been that more often than not, when he gets on the ball, he is quickly confronted by three or four defenders.

It is no coincidence that his strike against Chicago came when Jozy Altidore returned to the lineup.

“Nobody is happier than Seba,” said Greg Vanney. “Jozy brings a lot to the equation. He draws a lot of attention, teams are usually committing two guys to deal with Jozy, which loosens up space for Seba.”

Added Osorio: “[Altidore's] presence on the field took a lot of the focus. It allowed Seba to really express himself and have more time than he has had this year.”

Vanney has said in the past that Giovinco thrives on fractions of time, using his quickness to evade defenses. Such momentary bursts can be nullified by sheer numbers of opponents, and too often this season teams have been allowed to focus solely on shutting down Giovinco. With Altidore back, that tactic is less appealing.

Saturday was a case in point. Isolated one-on-one against Johan Kappelhof by a wonderful long pass from Michael Bradley, Giovinco cut inside on the defender before picking out the far bottom corner of the Chicago goal. The mere presence of Altidore prevented Jonathan Campbell from coming over to provide cover.

“I feel good, feel great,” said Giovinco of having his strike partner back. “I'm happy for me and for him.

“Now, everybody is freer, so now you know how we play,” he added. “If you miss one, two games, it's fine, but when you miss a player like Jozy for months, it becomes difficult.”

As CCL wound down, Giovinco let it be known that despite being under contract for this season and the next, he was eager to have his future sorted, spurring the rumor mill into overdrive.

Is he still happy in Toronto?

“[It's important] because I have two kids, a family,” said Giovinco. “If I was alone, it's no problem, but I don't want to talk about my contract. We'll see in the future.

“I'm happy, so everything is fine.”