Ask the Atomic Ant: A Sebastian Giovinco Exclusive

Sebastian Giovinco left a legacy at Toronto FC when he left the club in 2019. Part of the historic 2017 treble-winning team, the Al Hilal forward shared his thoughts on MLS and Toronto regrets in an exclusive interview with Soccer360’s Emanuele Gianelli.

Question: Toronto was a great experience for you. How was your daily life in Canada?

Answer: The life was amazing. I enjoyed it there very much. I also enjoyed the football. There were a lot of good players during the period I was there. It was a good experience for me to play there and try also to win something. It was a great experience.

Q: What about the football in Toronto? You were used to Italy, where the sport is No 1. How was it being in a city and a country with a different approach to the sport?

A: Yes, it isn’t the first sport, in North America there are more famous sports, but it was nice because Toronto fans love the sport and there is a big Italian community in Toronto. So football was growing there, like all of North America. You can’t compare the two places but it is growing, of course.

Q: How would you rate and compare the level of MLS?

A: You can’t compare it. The league is different, different between all the leagues everywhere and they’re not the same. It depends, MLS is different during the season between the playoff games and the regular season games. When you reach the playoff games the level is high, so there are different things about it.

You always learn something when you go to play in Italy, Canada or America, or here in Saudi Arabia. You always learn new things. MLS can still improve but it takes a lot of time. They have to start to teach children when they’re young, so it takes time.

Giovinco was part of the Al Hilal team that won the Asian Champions League in 2019 and while that success was celebrated to the full, it brought back a memory of his biggest disappointment during his Toronto career – the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final defeat to Mexico’s Chivas Guadalajara after a 3-3 draw over two legs and a 4-2 penalty shootout defeat. Giovinco scored in the second leg and netted his penalty in the shootout but, he says, that did not ease the pain.

Q: What were your best moments in Toronto? And do you feel more regret or pride about the CONCACAF Champions League final?

A: The best moment was winning the treble. When you win, of course it is a good feeling. The Champions League final we lost on penalties. When you lose on penalties you feel unlucky, but not many had reached that level in the United States and we were the first Canadian team to reach the final.

We could have won because we dominated the game and losing on penalties is not like losing during the 90 minutes. Penalties are always strange. You can win and you can lose, and it’s not good for the team.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new MLS season and Toronto’s change of coach?

A: I still follow the news from Toronto. They’ve changed a lot of things but I don’t know what happened. I can’t say anything because I don’t know what goes on inside the club. I know that they have made changes and changed a lot.

Q: What about your new adventure in Saudi Arabia? Is the Italy national team still a target for you?

A: So far, it is great in Saudi Arabia. I have won three trophies, I’m very happy. I think it is almost impossible to come back for the national team, though. Roberto Mancini is doing a very good job and I think he can do something special with this work.

Q: How do you think Andrea Pirlo is doing at Juventus? He’s struggling?

A: I think he is doing a great job, so far. It’s the first experience [of being a coach] for him. It’s not easy and so he is taking time to adapt in his new job, but I think he has the personality to be a very good coach.

Q: Is coaching an option when you retire? Where would you like to end your career?

A: I have another season with Al Hilal. I think it would be difficult to go back to Italy. I don’t know, maybe I could go back to play in North America. I’ve never had any preparations pre-match, it depends on what I feel and there is no schedule. So coaching, for now, no, it isn’t an option.

Giovinco in Toronto: By the numbers

27 – Sebastian Giovinco was 27 when he left Juventus for Toronto FC, having played 83 times for the Old Lady and represented Empoli and Parma as well.

7,000,000 – Giovinco was reportedly paid $7m a year under the terms of his first Toronto FC contract, making him MLS’ highest-paid player – ahead of Kaka – and the highest-paid Italian in any league.

9 – It took only nine minutes for Giovinco to record his and Toronto FC’s first MLS hat-trick, the third-fastest hat-trick in MLS history. The goals came against New York City FC in a 4-4 draw.

16 – Giovinco scored another hat-trick in August 2015 and with it, his 16th goal of the season, setting a new season goals record for Toronto. Dwayne DeRosario’s tally of 15 had stood since 2010.

35 – 2015 was a record-setting year for Giovinco as he set a new MLS record for combined goals and assists from a single player when he scored one and created one against Chicago Fire. He would go on to claim 38 goals and assists in his first year with Toronto.

57 – Giovinco’s goal after 57 seconds against D.C. United in April 2016 was the fastest Toronto goal ever scored in MLS. It’s some way short of the MLS record, held by Mike Grella’s seventh second effort in 2015, for New York Red Bulls against Philadelphia Union.

10 – A free-kick converted against New York City FC in July 2017 was Giovinco’s 10th set-piece goal, an MLS record. It was also his 50th goal in MLS.

32 – Giovinco made 32 appearances in Toronto’s treble-winning 2017 season, scoring 20 goals in all competitions.

4 – Giovinco was a four-time MLS All-Star, and a three-time member of the MLS Best XI during his career in Toronto.

142 – His Toronto career ended in 2018 after 142 appearances, 83 goals and numerous trophies and awards in four highly productive seasons.

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