Last night, Sebastian Giovinco weaved through the heart of the entire defense of the New York Red Bulls, hoodwinked another group of would-be markers with an absurdly calm fake shot with his stronger right foot, then spanked a perfect ball with his left that flew all the way across goal and into the far side of the net from a ridiculous angle.
It was a stunning goal. Once the play-by-play guy’s lungs had finally expended themselves after rhapsodizing the run, the shot, and the player who has made the seemingly impossible appear commonplace since joining the league this season, his parter Jason de Vos said simply, “MLS goal of the year. Calling it right now.” I can’t say I follow this league too closely, but I’d have a hard time believing there’d be much disagreement with de Vos’s assessment.
The crazy thing is that as gobsmackingly awesome as last night’s goal was, it is but one in an unending reel of Giovinco in MLS highlights. The video above has more feats of wonder by the Atomic Ant, and there are more collections on Youtube like them. In fact, I only selected that one because it was the most recent. It seems like every couple weeks or so he does something so stupefying that Youtube’s coterie of highlight videographers feel compelled to make yet another compilation, lest the previous ones be rendered obsolete after only a month.
In this, his first season in MLS, he has amassed 22 goals and 15 assists with two games plus the playoffs left to go. Both numbers lead the league, and no player before him has ever broken the 20 goals, 15 assists barrier. Even months ago, pundits credibly wondered whether he was already the greatest MLS player of all time. (“All time” meaning “since 1996,” of course. But still.)
The biggest thing that strikes you when watching clips of Giovinco treating an entire league like training dummies—besides seeing just how tiny he is—is how supremely confident he is of his ability to beat any number of defenders, to score from absolutely any place on the pitch. His knowledge and expression of his supremacy verges on disdain. Whenever Giovinco picks up a ball, he knows it’s completely within his power to run off and score without help from anyone else.
The effortlessness with which he roulettes around a couple defenders, or decides to flick the ball through an onrushing defender’s legs from a standing position as casually as you or I would decide to get off the couch and get some orange juice out of the fridge, makes everything his teammates do appear laborious by comparison. Even when Michael Bradley flips a first time pass with the side of his foot that sends the Italian through on goal, or when Jozy Altidore tricks half the defense by choosing to dummy the ball through his legs so that the pass reaches Giovinco, their moves seem telegraphed or intentional in a way that sullies the team’s true star’s improvisational genius.
Photo via Getty
Giovinco is legitimately a wonderful player. You don’t rack up over 239 appearances and countless more adoring fans in Italy otherwise. But he isn’t Messi; he isn’t the guy you see in the videos above. After all, he’s only playing over here because he couldn’t get off Juve’s bench. (Well, that and the wheel barrows of cash the league’s paying him.)
If this historic season of his really tells you anything, it’s that MLS is, right now, incapable of offering a real challenge for a talent that belongs among the sport’s elite. Things would be fine if there was any chance for the league to one day in the nearish future improve enough so that Giovinco wasn’t so untouchably great, but as we all know, the strict salary rules that prohibit more than a handful of great players—most always big names on the wrong side of 30—from seeing the league as viable, plus the more structural problems like the league’s central planning and single-entity status, make the prospects of an MLS worthy of Giovinco’s skills a pipe dream.
Giovinco should go back to Europe. His dazzling performances, and the starkness of the contrast between them and what the league is accustomed to, have been both entertaining and enlightening. Let’s thank him for the memories, and hope someone picks him up and brings him back where he belongs.