TORONTO - Major League Soccer's roster freeze came and went Friday without Toronto FC adding former league MVP Sebastian Giovinco back in the fold.

Toronto opened its training centre to the 36-year-old Italian in August, allowing him to practice on his own. Earlier this month, he was incorporated into the team warmups before training.

“If we were just looking for a nice moment, a nice feeling for our fans, for Seba, we probably could have pulled the trigger on a deal,” interim coach Terry Dunfield said. “But in my opinion that's not Seba. I think Seba wants to come back and be impactful and really make a difference.

“And at this stage he's probably realistically two or three weeks away from roster selection and unfortunately this year we've ran out of time. So the plan is for Seba to continue training with the group. He'll be flying when John Herdman comes in (as TFC's new coach) at the beginning of October and then we go from there.”

The diminutive forward, known as the Atomic Ant, left TFC in January 2019 over a salary dispute but has maintained a home in the city. His last club was Italy's Sampdoria, which signed him a short-term deal in February 2022 that went through June of that year.

Toronto is treating Giovinco with kid gloves.

For one, the Italian is a club legend and beloved by supporters. And TFC needs offence.

Toronto (4-13-10) has been looking for a forward to complement Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi in its attack. TFC ranks 28th in the 29-team league on offence, averaging just 0.85 goals a game and has been blanked in 13 of its 27 league outings this season.

Bernardeschi leads Toronto with five goals while Insigne and Deandre Kerr have four apiece.

TFC has tried Bernardeschi, Insigne, Kerr, Adama Diomande, C.J. Sapong, Ayo Akinola, and Prince Owusu at forward in league play this season.

But Giovinco is also 36 and there's a new coaching staff coming in with Herdman. So the club is keeping the door open.

“He's our own,” said Toronto GM Jason Hernandez. “Having him in the building, having him being a positive presence in the training ground with the staff and the players has all been great.”

Giovinco is the club's all-time leading scorer with 83 goals in all competitions, four ahead of Jozy Altidore and 23 ahead of veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio.

Unwilling to meet his contract demands, Toronto sold Giovinco to Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal FC before the 2019 season. At US$7.1 million, the former Juventus forward was the highest-earner in MLS in 2018.

The Italian quit the well-heeled Saudi club in August 2021 by mutual agreement.

Giovinco spent time at Toronto's training camp in California in January 2022, albeit without a contract.

At the time, club president Bill Manning said Giovinco was interested in finishing his career with the MLS team and that money was not an issue.

But nothing came of it.

Giovinco 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.

His MLS totals over four seasons were 68 goals and 52 assists in 114 regular-season games (111 starts).

In December 2020, Giovinco 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.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023