TORONTO – The 2017 Major League Soccer season has been anything but a smooth ride for Jonathan Osorio.
A regular starter for the majority of last year, including Toronto FC’s run to the MLS Cup, Osorio has been used mostly as a reserve in his 11 appearances this campaign thanks in large part to the off-season arrival of Victor Vazquez. The Spanish midfielder leads MLS in assists (with eight) and has quickly established himself as an influential starter for Toronto and one of the league’s top newcomers.
Osorio was also forced to sit out the Reds’ last two MLS matches due to an elevated heart rate that was discovered the day before a May 10 game against the Columbus Crew that marked just his fourth start of the year.
But Osorio, a 24-year-old native of Toronto, was cleared to return to action earlier this week and played a full 90 minutes for the Reds in a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Fury on Wednesday in the first leg of the Canadian club championship semifinals. That might not be enough for him to regain a starting role in MLS, though.
If Toronto has shown anything during its current seven-game unbeaten run (with six wins) in MLS it’s that it has great roster depth. Competition for playing time is fierce, and with Vazquez, captain Michael Bradley, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour holding down regular starting roles, it leaves Osorio, Marky Delgado, Armando Cooper and the rest of the midfielders battling it out for one remaining spot.
“Everybody is trying to prove something every time they get an opportunity to play. This is not an easy team to get into the starting 11,” coach Greg Vanney said ahead of Friday’s home game against Columbus.
“For all of the guys, it’s a situation now where whoever’s in form [will start]. If guys are in form, and they remain in form, and they fit nicely with the group that’s out there and the team is doing well, then those guys are going to have the edge at the moment.”
Considering the run that the Reds are on in MLS at the moment, you could understand why Vanney is hesitant to change up his roster too much. Still, he did offer some hope for Osorio.
“It’s important for the guys like Oso to keep training hard to and take advantage of their opportunities because they will come. We always make adjustments,” Vanney stated.
Also helping Osorio’s cause is the fact that he was one of the few TFC players who acquitted himself well in the humbling loss to the Fury, who play in the second-tier United Soccer League, in the nation’s capital on Wednesday.
“I thought he was solid. He retained a high percentage of his moments in possession. I think he’s still gaining the rhythm of playing after being off,” Vanney opined.
“What was good for him was to get 90 minutes under his belt to start feeling the rhythm and connecting with the guys, to free his mind of what’s going on with his body. He looked free, and I think that was a big thing.”
Another factor that could benefit Osorio is Vanney’s focus this season on quick ball movement. He wants his players to be efficient with their touches on the ball, and not to linger too long while in possession. Osorio is one of TFC’s more fleet-footed players, so Vanney’s emphasis on quick ball circulation fits into the young Canadian’s game.
“The message that I’m giving to all of the guys is keep the ball moving, keep it moving fast; let’s don’t dwell on the ball too long, get it off your foot and onto to someone else’s foot. It’s not for Oso or Armando or Markey that they have to be goal scorers for us. They have to be consistent, retain possession, keep the ball moving fast, be in good defensive spots, and work through the transitions,” Vanney stated.
“The guys who are doing that the best are the guys who will play because I do believe that’s the best version of who we are as a team, is when the ball is moving quickly and we get it to [our forwards].”
What does Osorio think about all of this? The young Canadian was pretty stoic when asked about the growing competition for playing time amongst the team’s midfielders.
“We have a lot of good players. Anybody can come in and play, and we’ll win the game. Anybody can do the job. It’s competitive. I like it,” Osorio said.
TFC and the Crew split their first two meetings this season. Each team earned a 2-1 win, with both games taking place in Columbus. Saturday marks the third and final contest of the campaign between the sides. The Crew lead the all-time series with 13 wins and 10 draws in 30 meetings.
Defenders Chris Mavinga and Eriq Zavaleta didn’t travel to Ottawa, while midfielder Benoit Cheyrou was subbed out in the second half due to injury. Vanney confirmed on Thursday that all three will be available for selection against Columbus.
NOTES: Toronto will be without its top two scorers for Saturday’s match: Jozy Altidore is suspended, while Sebastian Giovinco remains sidelined with a quad strain. Vanney confirmed that Giovinco is making great progress in his recovery, and the hope is that he could be available for the Reds’ road game against the New England Revolution on June 3… Vanney confirmed that captain Michael Bradley and Altidore will miss the trip to New England as they’ll be away on national team duty – the United States plays Venezuela in a friendly that same day in Utah. Vanney also expects the pair to miss next Wednesday’s semifinal second leg against the Ottawa Fury.