It wasn't a foregone conclusion that Jonathan Osorio would return to Toronto FC in 2023.
But when the 30-year-old Canadian international assessed his options in free agency, which included potential suitors in Europe, he couldn't help but feel like there was some unfinished business with his hometown club.
Fresh off signing a new contract that will keep him with the Reds through at least 2025, Osorio told reporters on Tuesday that his return was inspired in part by a desire to help get Toronto back to the top of the league after missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
"I think the way the last two years had gone, it would've been a little bit sour leaving the club in that way," Osorio said. "I think I'm excited for what's to come in the future of this club. For me, it felt like this was my destiny. No matter what I wanted or whatever was presenting itself, it felt like it was my destiny to stay here at Toronto."
"I've never been more motivated"
Osorio remembers what it was like when Toronto FC were the class of the league, a perennial Eastern Conference power that stocked their trophy case from 2016-19 with three Eastern Conference championships and an MLS Cup, Canadian Championship and Supporters' Shield treble in 2017.
That dominant run has given way to a downturn the last two seasons, but the hiring of Bob Bradley as head coach/sporting director last season, and some blockbuster roster moves that included the arrival of the Italian duo of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, has created what Osorio said is the foundation for a resurgence. Having been with Toronto since 2013 and accruing the most appearances in club history, Osorio said he has a valuable perspective on how to get the club back to those winning ways.
"Winning here, not just from myself, from other players telling me: There's pretty much no feeling like it," he said. "I think that's a big part of how the fans make you feel as well as the people working within the club, within the walls of Toronto FC, how they make the players feel, how they make them feel comfortable. They help with settling in with their families and everything. It's a big family club.
"It's a club that's very ambitious. They're always trying to win and as a player, what more do you want? You play to win trophies, and so for me to play for Toronto FC is a big privilege. It's a big responsibility as well."
World Cup experience
Osorio also cited his recent run with the Canadian men's national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup as an experience that can help elevate his game to a new level.
The midfielder has been a regular for his country since his 2013 debut, racking up 60 senior caps and scoring seven goals while featuring for Canada throughout Concacaf World Cup Qualifying (where they finished in first place) and the World Cup.
"I think because I've been here at the highest of highs, I know what that feels like and that spirit is valuable," he said. "I think what I learned playing at the World Cup was that experience has certain stages, it's so, so important. And I have that experience here, I know what it feels like for a team to be successful and to be doing well. But that's the contribution that I'm going to make and then along with that is doing that with the team and the people here that are striving to do that as well. It's not one person that does that. I just am going to do my part and everything that I can to ensure that I can bring that experience and that knowledge to the club.
"[The World Cup] was interesting. It motivated me to be better here and to bring that here to Toronto," he added. "Maybe there's lots of players you see making the jump and going, but I think too to grow the sport here [in Canada], there's got to be some players that stay here and grow it here. So, maybe that's my calling, and so for me that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to still strive to be at that level maybe over there [in Europe], but doing that here at Toronto FC."
As he looks to aid Toronto's quest for a bounce-back 2023 campaign, Osorio said he expects to take on a more pronounced role within the club, both on the field and in the locker room.
With his individual status now resolved, he projects as a regular fixture in the club's first-choice XI along with Insigne and Bernardsechi, where he'll hope to have plenty of chances to add to his current career MLS tally of 42 goals/43 assists in 259 appearances (9g/6a in 2022).
"I think I've never been more motivated for a lot of reasons, but the one more so than anything else is just to win," Osorio said. "Motivated to now be I think a really big part of the success of this club. I think in the past when we won the championship and everything, I think I played my part and I had my role and I think I played it well. I was able to show as well that I was able to take on more every year and I think I'm just at the point where I'm ready to take a really big role and be a vital part of everything that goes on here."