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When Sebastian Giovinco made the move from Juventus to Toronto FC two years ago his arrival in MLS was heralded as a landmark moment for the league, but one question persisted – what if he was too small? North American soccer, after all, tends to be more physical than the European game. Now, however, the question is over whether he is too big for MLS.

Giovinco, nicknamed The Atomic Ant due to his 5ft 4” height, is the greatest player in the history of the league. Perhaps not in terms of achievements, or in the number of trophies he has lifted or even in the number of goals he has scored, but no player has performed at such a consistently high level for such a long time.

When Giovinco plays at his best there’s very little any opposition MLS side can do to stop him. He is irrepressible, scoring 21 goals and contributing 16 assists in 34 appearances last season, following on from his tally of 22 goals and 13 assists in 33 appearances the season before that. And going on the basis of his pre-season performances this year, he could be set for his best campaign yet, which is quite the thought.Sebastian Giovinco of Montreal Impact

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Success comes at a cost for MLS

But with such success has come interest in the playmaker. Last winter, it was Barcelona reported to be weighing up a January transfer window move for Giovinco, with the player himself confirming the interest. “I’d have been a ball boy there,” he laughed when explaining why he’d turned down the Catalans.

More recently, however, clubs in both Serie A and the Chinese Super League circled. Interest from Giovinco’s homeland was quickly shrugged off, with the player’s agent Andrea D’Amico saying on Italian TV: “Giovinco’s not coming back to Italy. He’s found a setting where he is enjoying huge satisfaction both on and off the field, including getting to within touching distance of the title.”

China’s interest was more substantial, though, with Giovinco the subject of a “huge offer,” as D’Amico put it. The Italian playmaker was quick to rebuff the bid, committing his future to Toronto FC, much to the relief of everyone connected and associated with the Canadian club, and by extension MLS in general. “[Giovinco] has clearly indicated he doesn’t want to go,” TFC president Bill Manning confirmed, putting minds at ease.

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There is confusion over whether a formal bid was lodged for Giovinco over the off-season, but regardless, the fact that big-money interest in the 30-year-old has been fended off is a big-deal for Toronto FC. For all the transfers that have been conducted by MLS clubs over the winter, keeping Giovinco is the biggest statement of intent that has been made in the league ahead of the 2017 campaign.

Toronto FC can become a marquee franchise with Giovinco

With Giovinco in the side TFC have the capacity to beat anyone in MLS. The Atomic Ant carried Greg Vanney’s team for large spells of last season, with the Canadians coming within a penalty shootout of winning their first ever MLS Cup. Of course, TFC aren’t quite a one-man team, but with this particular man they stand a better chance than most.

Everything is in place for Toronto FC to finally become the marquee franchise they have threatened to be ever since their introduction to MLS in 2007. They have a significant fan base and a newly renovated 30,000-seater stadium, they have one of the deepest squads in the league and they have Giovinco, along with Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore – three Designated Players who have delivered on their billing.

Toronto star Sebastian Giovinco

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“The core group from the last few years, and certainly last year, remains together,” Bradley told reporters last month. “I think that part was very important for all of us, to feel like [we could build on] the progress that we made last year. The club did a really good job of [keeping the core together], but obviously the other part to it is you have to improve, you have to add the right pieces, you have to know the right ways to make your group better. I think we’ve done that in certain areas.”

That’s not to say that there is nothing to concern Vanney. Toronto FC have been quiet over the winter, to the point where they risk stagnating. Of course, the flip side of this is that by keeping the same core of the team together they will have grown even stronger, with relationships and understandings reinforced all over the pitch, but a lack of transfer activity at BMO Field hasn’t gone unnoticed.

But no level of transfer activity would have compensated for the loss of Giovinco had he left. He is a giant in the North American game, a player unlike any other in MLS. Losing him would have hit TFC hard, but keeping him could see the Canadians make an even greater impression.

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