Sebastian Giovinco to join Toronto FC as designated player
Juventus player known as Atomic Ant becomes available July 1
In signing five-foot-four Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus, Toronto FC has once again raised the bar for Major League Soccer.
But given Toronto's eight-year history of failure on the pitch, luring a European star in his prime to North America won't mean much unless the rich kid on the MLS block can finally win on the field and make the playoffs.
The 27-year-old Giovinco, nicknamed the Atomic Ant, will join Toronto in July after his contract with Italy's Juventus expires.
While Toronto opted to forgo props to highlight the Giovinco acquisition — unlike the double-decker bus parked outside the unveiling last January of now-departed England striker Jermain Defoe — Toronto general manager Tim Bezbatchenko was talking big about the little Italian.
He called the Giovinco signing a "historic moment" and "turning point" for the league.
"This is a moment in time for Major League Soccer where we have never gotten a player, that I can remember, from a top team in a top league who's willing to come over aged 27. It just hasn't happened yet," Bezbatchenko told a news conference Monday.
U.S. internationals like Toronto star midfielder Michael Bradley have returned to MLS in their prime. But import stars have tended to come over in their autumn years, although there has been a trend of late to up-and-coming international players coming to MLS.
Giovinco is an established Italian international with 21 caps, albeit one who has struggled to find his niche at times at Juventus.
Part of the attraction of Toronto for the 130-pound attacking midfielder is he goes from being a piece of the puzzle to marque man.
Toronto is still smarting from its experience with Defoe, who scored goals when healthy in 2014 but then was sidetracked by injury and a desire to go home. He was shipped to Sunderland last week in a swap that brought U.S. international forward Jozy Altidore the other way.
"I think it's important that you learn from the past and this time we're meeting halfway with the player," said Bezbatchenko. "He's just as excited as we are to be with this club."
Toronto's promise of finally making the playoffs ended in another early exit in 2014 with an 11-15-8 record. But Bezbatchenko said that while Defoe's stint in Toronto was just one season, it turned heads.
"I think what this organization has done in the past year has put the league on the map. Right or wrong, Jermain Defoe helped put this club and the entire league on the map. And I think people sort of took notice. Including players in Spain and France and Russia, in Italy.
"I'm getting calls regularly from players I never thought would be possible a few years ago when I was working at the league office."