By Tim Wharnsby
TORONTO (Reuters) - Italian Sebastian Giovinco revived his career with Toronto FC last year and Chelsea great Didier Drogba thrived in his first season with Montreal Impact, giving the Canadian teams high hopes for the 2016 MLS season.
Drogba, a scoring sensation after his arrival in Montreal midway through last season, had 12 goals in 14 appearances with the Impact, the final one coming in a first-round playoff win over Canadian rival Toronto.
Giovinco, known as the 'Atomic Ant' because of his speed and diminutive stature, had one of the best seasons in MLS history and took home the Golden Boot with 22 goals en route to being named the league's Most Valuable Player.
The 29-year-old Italian international put Toronto into the MLS playoffs for the first time in their nine-season history when he scored the game-winner in the 78th minute of a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
"The main goal this year is the team, to improve on last season's performance," said Giovinco. "Hopefully (the opposition) won't have any special treatment for me. They know the way I play, that's normal. It's up to (me) to make statements. (My) goal is to perform better than last year."
Toronto allowed 58 goals in the 2015 regular season, the most of any playoff team. But a strengthened back line and healthy Jozy Altidore should help their cause when the season opens on Sunday.
While Giovinco is in the prime of his career and his play last season helped him retrieve a spot on the Italian national team, Drogba is near the end of his playing days.
Still, after Giovinco took home player of the month honors last in July and August, Drogba was named the top performer in September and October.
The former Chelsea great, who will miss Sunday's season opener with knee problems linked to artificial turf, turns 38 next Friday and nearly departed Montreal in the offseason to become an assistant coach at Chelsea.
But while Drogba decided to honor the 18-month contract he signed last July with Montreal, who lost in the East semi-finals, the team are bracing for life without the Ivorian.
"We caught lightning in a bottle with Didier, and it’s important for us to start planning the post-Didier era in Montreal," said Impact president Joey Saputo.
"He's got one more year in his contract, and it’s important to start putting a group together and start looking at how we'll replace the player in the future."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)