It was March of 2015 the last time Toronto FC met Vancouver Whitecaps in league action, and Sebastian Giovinco was about to step on the North American soccer stage for the first time. His arrival in Toronto grabbed lots of attention in his new city, but across the league there had been muted hype for a player many were still unfamiliar with. Things changed very quickly.
Giovinco got his first MLS assist that day at BC Place as he set up one of Jozy Altidore’s two goals on the way to TFC’s 3-1 win in Vancouver. But that was just the start of it.
The Italian broke multiple records - leading the league in scoring - on his way to winning the MLS MVP award in his first year. Now in his sophomore season, Giovinco is already proving that last year was no fluke. Everything Toronto FC does seems to go through the Atomic Ant. In fact, he’s been involved in all 10 of the goals scored by TFC this year as Greg Vanney’s men have started the season strongly, taking 14 points from nine matches – eight of which were played away from home while BMO Field was undergoing renovations.
Giovinco’s current tally stands at six goals and four assists with the latest set-up coming in the home opener against FC Dallas when he provided the ammunition for Tsubasa Endoh to score the only goal of the game.
While Giovinco’s early season dominance has helped TFC get off to a good start, there are plenty more reasons for the Reds to be smiling. The league’s worst defence a year ago has conceded the fewest goals in MLS so far this season. The additions of goalkeeper Clint Irwin, and MLS veterans Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor have made the team much harder to break down. Michael Bradley has been extremely effective in his role at the bottom of the midfield diamond, and Canadian international Will Johnson has made an excellent start to his career in Toronto.
Having beaten Western Conference opponents for the first time this season with a 1-0 victory against Dallas, there is now another test from the west as the Whitecaps arrive at BMO Field on Saturday night.
I remember clearly a cold winter’s day in 2007 when I headed to a bar in downtown Toronto for the introduction of Toronto FC’s latest signing ahead of the club’s inaugural MLS season. After over a decade playing for club and country in Europe, Welsh international Carl Robinson had decided it was time for a new adventure in North America. He went on to make 74 MLS appearances for TFC and was named the team’s MVP twice during his three-year stay.
Robinson stayed in Major League Soccer after departing Toronto, playing for New York Red Bulls, but he always had a path plotted out that would prepare him for a career in coaching. Now, a decade on from his arrival in Toronto, Robinson is back in the city having firmly established himself amongst the coaching ranks in MLS. After two years as assistant to Martin Rennie in Vancouver, the former Wolves midfielder is now in his third year in the top job with the Whitecaps. As a former TFC player, Robinson is well aware of the importance of Toronto being a successful market in MLS.
“It’s great for Major League Soccer,” he said. “They’ve got fantastic support and great ownership. The resources are very strong and they’ve just extended their stadium.
"They’ve got the best player in the league from last year," Robinson continued. "It’s great for Canadian football. I’m looking forward to the game and being back there.
“Giovinco is a quality player but every week you play against teams that have the ability to hurt you. Giovinco is one, Jozy Altidore is another, Michael Bradley is another. Anyone can hurt you so we need to be aware of whoever is playing for Toronto. We’ve got players who can hurt them as well so it is important we do our defensive duties but also then focus on what we can do going the other way,” explained the Whitecaps coach.
Robinson will hope to record some Whitecaps history when he arrives back in Toronto, with Vancouver yet to win at BMO Field in Major League Soccer. It’s been an excellent week so far for the ‘Caps with two home wins against Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire. Vancouver’s home form has been excellent since losing to Montreal on opening day, but it’s on the road where they will hope to see improvement after taking just three points from their opening five away games.
Toronto FC against Vancouver Whitecaps is live on TSN1/3/4 on Saturday at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.