By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
When Sebastian Giovinco earned himself a free-kick just outside the penalty box on Monday night, it felt as though fate was serving up one of those great moments. Ninety seconds later, as the 72nd minute expired, Giovinco delivered on the set-up by sending a curled ball over the half-hearted leap of the Red Bulls' defensive wall. It went barely above the head of roaming fullback Michael Murillo, goalkeeper Luis Robles couldn't move to his right fast enough, and Toronto was thrust into the lead in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The goal was amazing and the moment was a big one for a team on the road. As mentioned shortly afterwards on the broadcast and later repeated on seemingly every facet of social media, Seba has now scored more set piece goals than any other player since his arrival to Major League Soccer in 2015.
During the regular season alone, he has 13 free kick goals. That's twice as many as second place Didier Drogba, who has six.
But how does Giovinco perform compared to other players? We've written before about how (maybe overly) willing Giovinco is to shoot, so is this an issue of quantity over quality? Is he actually good, or does he just take many more free kick shots than anyone else? Given how far away he was on that free kick, there are plenty of MLS teams that would have opted to chip that ball into the box rather than shoot straight for goal.
Looking back through ASA’s data from 2015 to 2017, Giovinco’s expected goals from free-kicks alone is over seven. That's in addition to 129 shots delivered from an average distance of over 25 yards away, which tells us something we already know—Giovinco is going to shoot when given the opportunity and often he’s going to score.
Dating back to 2011 (four years before Giovinco arrived), only two other players (Federico Higuain and Javier Morales) have even accumulated half as many expected goals from free kicks as Giovinco. Simply no one is taking as many shots from free kicks as Giovinco is on a regular basis. And there's good reason for that - his 13 goals are almost six more than expected. Beyond even what our eyeballs clearly tell us, there's solid reason to believe Giovinco is one of the best free kick takers in MLS history.
The only sad part of this has been the talk that this has been a bit of a “down year” for the Atomic Ant. In the 2017 regular season he "only" had five and a half shots per game, 16 goals and six assists. It makes you scratch your head and wonder if MLS fans are becoming a bit calloused to the player who has brought with him a type of shot-taking revolution to this league.
I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be around in MLS or playing soccer in general, but one day we’re going to say we saw one of the greatest players in Major League Soccer history play, and his name was Sebastian Giovinco.