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Kristian Jack

TSN Soccer Analyst

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The case for MVP is closed. Close the polling stations, discard any more votes and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

It was the finest season by a player in the history of Major League Soccer. He arrived with many in the United States asking ‘who?’ and by season end he was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off. He never disappointed the paying public and did a little bit of everything.

Sebastian Giovinco scored goals in April, May, June, July, August, September and October.

He scored 22 goals in total. He scored 12 at home and 10 away. He scored 13 first half goals and nine in the second half. He scored eight goals when the team was drawing to put them into the lead. He scored six goals when the team was winning to extend their advantage. He scored five goals when the team was losing to level the game again.

He scored five – FIVE – goals direct from free kicks outside the box and another goal with the outside of his foot from a narrow angle on a second phase off a set piece. He scored three penalty kicks all to the same side. He scored 18 goals with his right foot and four with his left, including the finest goal you’ll see in Major League Soccer in 2015, no matter what a vote tells you.

He scored 13 goals from open play. One attacking from the right, four in the middle of the pitch and eight from the left. Two of those in the middle came from a pass on the left meaning 10 open plays goals this season came from the left flank, the stage where Giovinco flourished.

It was back in the harsh winter when a bit of a stir was caused in the press conference(s) after TFC brass referred to Giovinco as an attacking midfielder and the player himself said he was a striker.

I sat down with head coach Greg Vanney in January and discussed the shape of the team and the Italian’s role. Here is a small portion of that chat that is interesting to look back on now:

Kristian Jack: Greg, you mentioned in the press conference you see Giovinco more centrally as a playmaker linking the central midfield with the forward. Is there a thought that you could play him more out wide in a front three?

Greg Vanney: He could, yes, if we find a scenario where there isn't enough space.

KJ: That's my concern and why I brought it up. If someone plays a double pivot and they squeeze the space for him, you need him operating in space, surely? So maybe he could play further wide like Alexis Sanchez, for example, at Arsenal?

GV: Absolutely we could do that; take him out where there is more space on the field. It is very hard to man mark a player when he comes to the outside of the field so as we recognize a team's approach, if they look to man mark him then or crowd a space then, he comes out from the middle and the assignments become very unclear for the opposition, he could drift out and we could slide other pieces in. The objective is to get him the ball as much as possible when he is facing forward and going at the backline. I think he is as special an attacking midfielder as there has ever been in this league. He has a great combination of being able to set other people up but also create his own chance and that's invaluable in this league. We were looking for a number ten and I think he is a great hybrid of a number ten and a nine and a half where he can actually finish; he isn't just a setup guy.

Greg Vanney had yet to coach the Juventus player but you can see by his thoughts that the goals we now have as memories he had as realistic dreams back then.

 

Sebastian Giovinco: the Ultimate Space Invader

“It’s something you either have or you don’t,” Giovinco told me recently about natural movement on the pitch. “The coach is very important because he can see what moves you make, he can help you out and improve.”

“As a player I analyze everything, to the moment, it comes naturally to me to find this. There are more spaces here in MLS so it’s better for me, but also for the supporters because you can deliver a better show.”

The area given to Giovinco to become a true performer has often been that space on the left side, the platform that has given him opportunities to score the most goals from open play this season. Vanney’s desire to get him facing forward and attacking the opposition’s defence has been all about finding space for the Italian to invade on the left. Its been one of the main reasons the team has played regularly with a midfield diamond and certainly the key factor in playing Jonathan Osorio on the left in midfield, where he can cut in and make up the numbers, and not advance and take up the space often used by Giovinco. It is also why no attack minded wide players like Robbie Findley or Herculez Gomez play on the left.

 

TFC’s regular shape and side during a late season winning streak

Nine months on from our pre-season conversation Vanney, reflecting on Giovinco’s incredible season and goals from the left told me: “He is very clever and shifty in quickly turning and getting to face towards the goal and its very difficult for centre-backs when he is running at you. There is cleverness about how he gets there. A lot of his goals have come from a transition where the opposition is focused on them being on the ball, he slides out there and then the ball turns over and we can find him often in open spaces and in one-on-one situations. A lot of his best moments are in transition, slipping out there and forcing defenders to step out to him.”

 

Breaking down Giovinco’s goals on the left

To appreciate his movement and role in the build-up to the goals the following shots are taken five seconds before he scores.

April 4 in Chicago

His first goal for the club was thanks to a goalkeeper error, but one he executed by staying deeper on the left and occupying the channel between full back and centre back. Transition time – the time spent between winning the ball back and scoring – 1 minute 2 seconds (despite the goalkeeper’s error the build-up to this goal was one of the club’s finest moves of the season).

April 18 in Dallas

With the game long out of hand Giovinco does what Vanney describes, positioning himself on the left flank waiting for a pass the moment the club wins the ball back. He then goes around the defender on the touchline and finishes at the near post with an elegant chip. Transition time – 13 seconds.

June 6 in Dallas

A sensational goal to change the momentum in a big game started by drifting into space again from a quick turnover and finished by rounding the defender on the outside and smashing the ball into the roof of the net on the left foot. Transition time – 15 seconds.

July 18 home to Philadelphia

His first home goal gliding from the left, allowing the ball to roll across his body before smashing the ball on net and following up on the rebound to slot home. Transition time – 8 seconds.

July 25 in Columbus

Another spectacular goal that changed the momentum as he moves off the shoulder of the full back, receives the pass over the top and smashes home a left foot volley. Game ends 3-3. Transition time – 6 seconds.

August 5 home to Orlando

Having already scored a penalty and a free kick the Italian stayed left hoping to get a chance to get his first hat-trick at home and the moment Toronto FC won back the ball they played him in and he does the rest, dribbling towards goal and finishing on the left. Transition time – 13 seconds.

September 19 home to Colorado

Another exceptional team goal and at this point you can see Giovinco’s movement between the lines has caused Colorado a massive problem. One clever flick from Osorio and Giovinco finishes brilliantly with a curl into the far corner from 20 yards. Transition time – 16 seconds.

October 14 home to New York Red Bulls

The best saved for last. The headline act amongst a cast of greatest hits. One that deserves two photos. First 10 seconds before…”give me the ball”.

And then on his way to complete the master class - five seconds before - just as he fools the Red Bulls defence. Transition time – 19 seconds.

It was the goal that guaranteed Toronto FC their first playoff spot. 

“He’ll be a nightmare for the opposition,” Vanney predicted in January. He turned out to be an absolute dream signing for everybody else.