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Bringer of Hope: Giovinco's MVP Season Reinvigorated a Battered Fan Base

In a remarkable year for Toronto sports, no individual performance has loomed larger than the effort put forth by the so-called Atomic Ant.

by Daniel Squizzato
Dec 2 2015, 5:33pm

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco was unsurprisingly named Major League Soccer's 2015 MVP. He led the league in both goals (22) and assists (16), and played a huge part in finally dragging TFC to the team's first-ever playoff appearance in its painful nine-season history.

Now, Giovinco wasn't the only player to put up a big year in a Toronto uniform. Josh Donaldson clubbed his way to his own MVP award, while Jose Bautista provided a new generation of Blue Jays fans with an indelible playoff memory.

READ MORE: Dregs of Society No More: Giovinco Brings Respectability Back to TFC

On the basketball court, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan solidified themselves as the Raptors' leaders, en route to the team's second straight division title. Even the hapless Leafs made some high-profile acquisitions, albeit of the off-ice variety.

But in a remarkable year for Toronto, no individual performance has loomed larger than the effort put forth by the so-called Atomic Ant. To put Giovinco's season in historical context for Toronto FC, his 22 goals now put him second on the club's all-time scoring list. TFC has played nine seasons. Giovinco has played in just one of those.

By next summer, we could be talking about him as the team's all-time leading scorer. To do that, he'll need to surpass current goal king Dwayne De Rosario, the hometown boy who racked up 32 goals in his four years with the Reds (in two separate stints).

De Rosario was, of course, the flashy and bombastic attacker who'd often take the team on his back and attempt to single-handedly will it to victory. And while his shaking and baking earned him plenty of admirers, his acrimonious departure from TFC in 2012 turned him into a polarizing figure.

There are other polarizing figures on TFC at the moment. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore—who, like Giovinco, are on big-money, designated player contracts—both had successful seasons, but both maintain their share of detractors amongst the team's fan base.

That fan base, once heralded as a beacon for the entire league, has been decimated over the years, with disillusionment and infighting exacerbated by the team's perennially poor performances. The news that the Argonauts would be moving in to share BMO Field starting in 2016 has been enough to turn some fans away for good.

But amidst all the chaos, all the ongoing turmoil and all the repeatedly-scabbed-over wounds that TFC has inflicted upon its supporters, there is finally an incontrovertible rallying point, a galvanizing figure about whom there can be no reasonable disagreement.

That demigod is, of course, Giovinco.

Such hyperbolic praise is probably worth an eye roll or two, given the historical trend by TFC (and Toronto teams in general) to annually proclaim an incoming player as the team's saviour. As recently as 2014, TFC's saviour was going to be English striker Jermain Defoe.

He came in with plenty of hype; remember the double-decker bus driving around Toronto during the preseason, and the goofy, but ubiquitous, "Bloody Big Deal" ads? But then came what would, sadly, become a defining moment of his tenure. Defoe stood over a penalty kick at BMO Field against Houston on Oct. 8, 2014, with Toronto down a goal and its postseason hopes hanging in the balance.

His shot was saved. TFC lost the game, and missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year. Three months later, he was back in England, following a trade to Sunderland.

Fast forward just over a year, to Oct. 13, 2015. The Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Italy against Norway in Euro 2016 qualifying. Sebastian Giovinco comes on in the second half, helping spark the Azzurri in a 2-1 win.

The next day, Giovinco is on a transoceanic flight to Toronto. How much has he slept? Who knows. How fresh are his legs? Who knows. But with TFC holding its playoff fate in its own hands at home once again, Giovinco wouldn't miss it. An international star fresh off a flight from Europe—having played the day before in a major tournament qualifier!—he could have easily been forgiven for being at way less than 100 percent.

Instead, just seven minutes after entering the game, he authored his own defining moment, and scored perhaps the most brilliant goal of his (or anyone's) MLS season, slaloming through four New York defenders and putting a left-footed rocket into the back of the net.

TFC won the game. TFC made the playoffs. Two months later, Giovinco is the league MVP.

That goal, and that story, would have been forever etched in the minds of every Toronto sports fan, if not for the fact that just an hour or so earlier, a bit further east along the Lakeshore, a certain Mr. Bautista cranked a certain home run.

And sure, if we're comparing postseason runs, the Blue Jays' journey to Game 6 of the ALCS provided plenty more moments of happiness than Toronto FC's frustrating 3-0 loss to the rival Montreal Impact in a one-game playoff showdown.

But from the season's beginning to its end, Giovinco was generally worth the price of admission just on his own. Even when he wasn't scoring or setting up teammates (which was rare, since he had a hand in two thirds of TFC's goals), he was leaving mouths agape with his footwork. His on-field exploits and off-field devotion to the city have, in some small measure, helped to rebuild and reinvigorate the once-moribund franchise's battered fan base.

And that last point is perhaps the most pertinent. Despite their troubles over the past decade (or longer), the Jays, Raptors and Leafs have always remained relevant in the city. But TFC was, perhaps, at the precipice of total obscurity in a crowded sports market, especially amidst renewed success elsewhere.

Giovinco arrived just in time to pull Toronto's soccer team back from that edge. And for that, he is quite worthy of wearing the mantle of MVP.