By 90Min
October 17, 2017

Toronto FC were presented with the 2017 MLS Supporters Shield on Sunday night, the trophy awarded to the team that finishes top of the regular season standings, following a narrow 1-0 over Canadian rivals Montreal Impact.

The Ontario franchise had already sealed top spot on 30th September with a win over New York Red Bulls and could potentially have done it even sooner were it not for surprise back-to-back losses against Montreal and New England Revolution in the two weeks that preceded it.

Having joined Major League Soccer as an expansion team in 2007, this has been a long time coming for Toronto. Despite dominance in the separate Canadian Championship, the team failed to make the MLS playoffs in any of its first eight years of existence.

That changed in 2015 when a 6th place finish in the Eastern Conference was good enough for a first round playoff berth. It quickly ended with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Montreal, though, a much newer team who were competing in only their fourth season at the time.

Toronto improved the following season, finishing third in the Eastern Conference and going all the way to an MLS Cup showdown against Seattle Sounders, losing 5-4 on penalties.

Claus Andersen/GettyImages

2017 has been even better so far. With only a single game left to play, Toronto are 12 points clear at the top of Eastern Conference and the overall standings - fellow eastern side New York City are the next best in MLS. Toronto have 68 points from 33 games, while Western Conference leaders and fellow Canadians Vancouver Whitecaps have just 52 points.

Were they to successfully translate the regular season into the playoffs, where a bye to the Eastern Conference semi-finals is assured, nobody could argue that the MLS Cup doesn't deserve to finally head to Toronto in 2017.

Since 2015 and the team's first playoff appearance, Sebastian Giovinco has been key. It was the Italian's first season and he's been arguably the best player in MLS ever since.

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Toronto have had big names before. Jermain Defoe's stint at BMO Field was limited to just 2014 before he returned to England, while ex-Germany international Torsten Frings was hardly going to light fires when he joined the team just shy of his 35th birthday from a holding midfield role.

Jozy Altidore, a revelation since joining in 2015, and Michael Bradley, a 140-cap USA international with Bundesliga and Serie A experience who arrived in 2014, deserve immense credit for their contributions to Toronto's rise in recent seasons. The same goes for head coach Greg Vanney, hired in 2014, but Giovinco has been the ultimate star of the show.

In the same season that Toronto reached the post-season for the first time, Giovinco was named MLS MVP - his debut season in 2015. He scored 22 goals that year, seven more than his previous best single season tally which had come at Parma in Serie A in 2011/12. His next best league goal tally was the seven he managed for Juventus the following campaign.

Giovinco scored 21 goals in 2016, including four in the playoffs en-route to the MLS Cup final. He has scored another 15 goals to date in the 2017 regular season and is second only to New York veteran David Villa in the overall MLS in statistical performance ratings calculated by WhoScored.com.

Giovinco left Juventus midway through the 2014/15 season in Europe. His former club would go on to complete a domestic double in Italy and reach the Champions League, but the Turin-born winger called time on his career with his boyhood club in an attempt to begin a fresh challenge.

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Also previously a finalist with Italy at Euro 2012, Giovinco celebrated his 28th birthday a week after signing with Toronto and differed from other European names in making the switch to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in that he was at a peak age.

Steven Gerrard, for example, was 35 years of age when he made his LA Galaxy debut, while Frank Lampard was 37 at New York. Even David Beckham was 32 when he completed his move to America from Real Madrid in the summer of 2007.

Giovinco was not at the same level as those superstars while he was in Europe, but the way his starred has burned so very brightly in North America is enough to make you wonder if the little Italian is just too good to be playing MLS level.

Video: Giovinco goal vs New York Red Bulls, October 2016

Whether or not moving was the right or wrong decision on his part is another debate entirely. Giovinco made the switch to Toronto precisely because he'd lost his way trying to make it at the elite level in Europe. Now, he's the best player in the league and is the key difference for his team, one that had underachieved in the years prior to his arrival given the resources spent.

The fact that he is playing so well and is having such a positive impact, suggests it doesn't really matter if he is too good because he's making an actual contribution, winning trophies and essentially turning himself into a legend at one of the most passionate clubs there is. Why risk all of that for a gamble elsewhere where he could easily be forgotten?

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