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Giovinco back training with Toronto FC but future with club still up in the air


Former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco wants to end his career with Toronto FC, taking the first step on a possible return Thursday at the MLS club's pre-season camp in California.

Giovinco, who turned 35 on Wednesday, trained with the team for the first time since leaving in January 2019 over a salary dispute. Without a contract for the present, it's now about seeing if Giovinco and Bob Bradley, TFC's new coach and sporting director, think it's a good fit.

"I have a lot of respect for Sebastian in that he's made it clear to us that he would like to finish his career in Toronto in the right way and we're very respectful of that," Toronto president Bill Manning said. "He's made it clear to us that it's not about money right now and that clears a big hurdle.

"And now it's going to be about the fit. And Bob getting the chance to know him and him getting a chance to see Bob and where he would fit in. And then if all is good from that standpoint, we take the next steps."

Both sides seem willing to give it a shot.

"At this point everyone's eyes are wide-open," Manning said. "But we're saying 'Hey let's see how it goes. Let's have him train with the team. Let's see how it fits.'"

The former Juventus forward would have to go through the league's allocation process, which regulates the return of former MLS players, among others, to the league. Toronto currently stands third on the allocation list, behind Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati.

Manning said the report he got back from Giovinco's first training session Thursday was good.

"I heard he scored a goal," Manning said with a laugh.

The Italian star left the MLS club in early 2019 when Toronto, unwilling to meet his contract demands, sold him to Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal FC.

Giovinco, who maintained a residence in Toronto, quit the Saudi club last August by mutual agreement and has made no secret of his desire to rejoin TFC.

If he still has it, it could be a good fit.

Toronto needs some star power in attack. And having Giovinco back in the fold might also help win back fans who soured on the club after a dismal 6-18-10 season.

Giovinco, meanwhile, returns to the club that embraced him. He repaid that love with plenty of highlight-reel goals in his first go-round. 

In December 2020, the diminutive forward known as the Atomic Ant was named to the league's list of 25 greatest players, alongside the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Canadian Dwayne De Rosario.

News of Giovinco being back surfaced Thursday morning when the club, which arrived in California on Jan. 18 for training camp, finally released its camp roster.

Giovinco was listed as being "invited to train," a sign of respect to the former TFC star. Several other players were listed as "trialists."

Giovinco, the top earner in MLS in 2018 at US$7.115 million, is Toronto's all-time leading scorer.

In four seasons with Toronto, Giovinco had 68 goals and 52 assists in 114 regular-season games (111 starts).

He won MVP honours in his debut 2015 season, when he was directly involved in 65 per cent of Toronto's 58 goals with 22 goals and 16 assists. In all competitions, he had 83 goals and 64 assists in 142 appearances.

With question-marks over the future of designated players Jozy Altidore and Yeferson Soteldo, who are both not in camp, and Italian star Lorenzo Insigne not coming to the club until July, TFC is short on attacking options.

The roster lists returnees Ifunanyachi Achara, Ayo Akinola, Jayden Nelson and Jordan Perruzza, plus 2022 draft pick Reshaun Walkes, trialist Wilson Harris, Hugo Mbongue of Toronto FC II and recent signing Deandre Kerr at forward.

A club spokesman said the roster only covers players in camp, which explains the absence of Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio and Jamaican defender Kemar Lawrence, who are away on international duty.

Soteldo, currently with Venezuela, is expected to be on the move from TFC with talk of a swap with Mexico's Tigres for Mexican international defender Carlos Salcedo.


Toronto FC Camp Roster

Goalkeepers: Alex Bono, Luka Gavran (unsigned draft choice), Greg Ranjitsingh, Andrea Vaikla (Toronto FC II), Quentin Westberg.

Defenders: Auro Jr, Kadin Chung (trialist), Kobe Franklin (Toronto FC II), Rohan Goulbourne (Toronto FC II), Lukas MacNaughton, Talen Maples (Toronto FC II), Chris Mavinga, Shane O’Neill, Luca Petrasso, Luke Singh, Damia Viader (trialist).

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Dante Campbell (Toronto FC II), Antonio Carlini, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello, Alejandro Pozuelo, Ralph Priso, Jacob Shaffelburg, Kosi Thompson (Toronto FC II).

Forwards: Ifunanyachi Achara, Ayo Akinola, Sebastian Giovinco (invited to train), Wilson Harris (trialist), Deandre Kerr, Hugo Mbongue, Jayden Nelson, Jordan Perruzza, Reshaun Walkes (unsigned draft choice).


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press