TORONTO - The issue of Toronto FC sharing a stadium with the CFL Argonauts, which had seemingly been put to bed, has returned to the forefront just days after the MLS team's painful penalty shootout loss to Seattle in the MLS Cup final.
And it was Toronto's marquee player who raised the issue.
Star striker Sebastian Giovinco told the club's end-of-season media availability Tuesday that while he was physically OK, changing "environmental conditions" had affected his play in the final minutes of the last three home games.
Pressed on the issue, he was more specific — saying he had analysed this season and concluded that unlike last year when he excelled at home, his best games in the 2016 playoffs were away from BMO Field.
"Maybe the only factor that may have contributed somehow in changing since last year is that now this year another team was playing in BMO Field," he said through an interpreter. "That may have contributed to changing something on the pitch."
Giovinco had a goal and two assists in four home playoff games. Away from home, he had three goals and two assists in two outings.
The 29-year-old Italian said he had never had a single episode of cramps in four years prior to having them in three of Toronto's last four home games.
"With all other factors being equal, something must have changed somewhere else," he said.
Giovinco had no answers. "I'm no gardener," he said with a laugh.
Giovinco stressed he was not using the pitch to make excuses. He said he was simply explaining why he had to leave game early and had already raised the issue with team management.
But in doing so publicly, he opened a Pandora's box especially after captain Michael Bradley and coach Greg Vanney had repeatedly praised the work of the BMO Field grounds crew in recent weeks. He also gave new ammunition to TFC supporters unhappy at sharing their prized pitch with a team of CFL heavyweights.
On the plus side, Giovinco rebuffed a question over his future perhaps lying elsewhere.
"I am very happy here and I have goals here that I want to achieve," he said. "Once those goals have been achieved, you can ask the same question.,
Giovinco was substituted in the 88th minute of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against New York City, the 96th minute in Game 2 of the conference final against Montreal and the 103rd minute of the MLS Cup final. Both the Montreal and Seattle games went to extra time.
After Saturday's championship game, Vanney said Giovinco asked to come off because he could no longer physically continue. The Italian, who normally takes penalty kicks for the team, angrily hurled a glove to the ground as he approached the team bench.
Giovinco said he had struggled since the 70th minute with cramps.
After his pitch observations, the five-foot-four Giovinco was quickly lambasted by several CFL players.
Argos defensive back Matt Black tweeted: "#Giovinco, crying causes dehydration. Maybe that's why cramping took out of the Championship game!"
A second Black tweet said: "#Giovinco, both my hamstrings would have to cramp off the bone before I took myself out the championship game #CutFromDifferentCloth."
"Now I think I've heard it all wow," added Toronto running back Brandon Whitaker.
"That's some serious mental weakness...dude needs some help," tweeted Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Rob Bagg.
Toronto FC president Bill Manning acknowledged the field, which he described as very sandy, "wasn't ideal," and cited the Dec. 10th timing and recent Grey Cup as not helping.
"He's a guy that relies on fractions of a second and how a ball bounces," Manning said of Giovinco.
Manning said team officials planned to go to Europe to check out hybrid grass fields.
"I'm confident we will be better a year from now .. A player like Seba, he does experience that and he was frustrated. It is what it is and it's something we will improve upon."
Given the two teams share ownership in Bell and Larry Tanenbaum, a change to groundsharing is not likely.
Fellow designated player Jozy Altidore was also in a sharing mood Tuesday, saying Toronto needed some offensive help.
"To be completely honest, I think we can use a little bit of a more creative player," said the U.S. international striker.
"I think we're a very good team. But if we have another piece that is creative, whether it be a winger or a creative player that can kind of on his own help us decide games as well would be great ... Look, there's a lot of things we can work on and being more creative is one."
Vanney said he did not expect much turnover.
"For sure our core is not going to change. We want to stay together," he said. "We're just scratching the surface."
The mood at the end-of-year session ranged from a black cloud still seemingly hanging over fullback Justin Morrow, who missed Toronto's last shot in the penalty shootout, to Bradley, who seemed more driven than ever.
"I think it's still hard to put into words — all the feelings, all the emotions. Obviously a lot of pain," said Morrow, who looked haggard. "It's going to hurt for a while."
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio was also downcast.
Asked if he planned to watch the final again, he replied; "Probably not. I know what happened."
But Bradley and front office officials saw positives ahead.
"It was a really good year but I think the best is yet to come .. with this team and this franchise," said Manning.
Bezbatchenko confirmed that Panamanian winger Armando Cooper, who had been on loan with the team, is now a full-time member of TFC. Manning said the team had more targeted allocation money and had already made scouting trips to Europe and South America.
The GM said he expected the coaching staff to return intact for the start of training camp in late January.
Asked if he was looking forward to the start of camp, Bradley replied: "Very, very much."
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