Gold Cup: Style and substance as Jonathan Osorio evolves for Toronto FC & CanMNT | Commentary

It’s often said that with crisis comes opportunity. There is perhaps no better adage to describe the rise of Jonathan Osorio.

Osorio stepped into difficult situations for both club and country after he signed his first professional contract back in 2013. But the crafty midfielder made the most of his opportunities, establishing himself as a pillar of both teams.

The first half of Toronto FC’s 2013 season was an ugly one, even for a club whose brief history is already overflowing with ugly seasons. No, it wasn’t the 0-9 start, “worst team in the world” season (that was the previous year), but the 2013 campaign still saw the Reds claim just two wins in their first 17 games, essentially eliminating them from MLS playoff contention by the time the CONCACAF Gold Cup rolled around in July.

There was, however, a bright spot for the club. Osorio—who had parlayed a standout 2012 season in the now-outlawed Canadian Soccer League into a place with the TFC Academy and, in short order, the TFC first team—had already made 14 appearances and scored three goals for Toronto by the halfway mark of the 2013 season. One of those goals, a long-distance crack against New York, won the Toronto native the MLS Goal of the Week—and a place in the hearts of his hometown supporters.

The scintillating start to Osorio's rookie season also got him on the radar of the Canadian men’s national team, which was experiencing a crisis of its own. The program was hungry for fresh blood after the team crashed out of World Cup qualifying in humiliating fashion in October 2012, and young Osorio—a confident playmaker in central midfield—fit the bill.

The then-20-year-old made his debut for the Canadian senior team in a friendly against Costa Rica on May 28, 2013. Then, shortly after his 21st birthday, he went on to feature in all three of Canada’s games at that summer’s Gold Cup, starting in two of them. But interim head coach Colin Miller’s experimental squad didn’t get the results at that tournament, exiting at the group stage without a win or a goal.

In fact, 2013 went down as the worst year to date in the history of the Canadian men’s team, who recorded just one goal and zero wins from 13 games that year. But when Benito Floro took over as full-time manager that August, his long-term goal was to build up a new foundation for the program.

And right from the start, Osorio was a part of that plan.

While the results weren’t there for club or country in 2013, Osorio had burst onto the scene, making 28 league appearances (with five goals) for Toronto FC and eight appearances for Canada. His rapid ascent already had some thinking about Osorio putting the weight of not one, but two teams in red on his shoulders for the foreseeable future.

His sophomore season provided some perspective on that front. It might be unfair to say Osorio experienced a slump in 2014—he actually became more entrenched as a regular for Toronto FC, making 24 league starts—but an influx of new players meant some positional shuffling for Osorio, who notched three goals for the Reds last season.

Likewise with Canada, Osorio attended several training camps in 2014 yet played in just one of five games that year, a November friendly against Panama. But from the moment he entered that game as a second-half substitute, he was one of the team’s best performers, playing with an intensity befitting a young man trying to prove that, indeed, he could be looked to as the future of the program.

Now in his third year as a pro, the 23-year-old Osorio has managed to do what a half-dozen TFC homegrown players and countless national-team prospects before him have been unable to do: make it stick. His inclusions in Toronto’s starting lineup and in Canada’s Gold Cup squad are uncontroversial and unsurprising. He has blended in attack with internationals like Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley, while at the same time developing an intelligent and underrated defensive partnership down TFC's let side with fellow Canadian national teamer Ashtone Morgan.

He is, in that sense, part of the supporting cast. But he still has the shine to steal more than just the occasional sceen from his top-billed teammates.

For Canada, a new crisis has emerged for next month’s Gold Cup as injuries will hold veteran midfielders Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson out of the lineup. Osorio will likely move from "supporting cast" to "featured player," the midfield engine whose passing and vision will be the key to feeding young attackers like Cyle Larin and Tesho Akindele.

Can Osorio step up and turn an opportunity into a statement? If history is any guide, there’s a very good chance that he will. 

Topics: