They paraded to the podium at BMO Field and they all said the same thing. Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, wearing a look of resignation to go along with a vest and tie. Greg Vanney, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore – eyes red from the sting of champagne and, yes, tears.
“You could tell that the start of their season was that loss in 2016,” said Schmetzer, referring to Toronto FC’s shootout loss at home to Seattle in last season’s MLS Cup.
They didn’t bring Brampton’s Jonathan Osorio into the post-match interview room, but the truth is it wouldn’t have mattered. It wouldn’t have fit the narrative; wouldn’t have fit what Bradley two or three times called “this obsession” with winning the MLS Cup. Osorio’s season didn’t start the same time as his TFC teammates, or at least it doesn’t seem that way. Twenty-one games he went without starting at one point this season; five in a row when he was unused completely. Yet here he was on one of this city’s night of nights: starting in the biggest match in TFC history, for the third time this post-season.
Lose this one and it’s all wide right and curses and stuff.
It wasn’t just Bradley and Altidore who became emotional refugees this fall after being tagged as Mr. Scape and Mr. Goat for the U.S team’s elimination from the World Cup. Redemption was not only coloured red, white and blue in this 2-0 win. There was an ample helping of red, too … red as in the national team colours Osorio wears for Canada.
Osorio did not figure in the scoring Saturday night, but the ovation he received when he was subbed out for Armando Cooper in the 85th minute was robust. There has always been something star-crossed about Osorio – especially when the ball’s at his feet – but my goodness was he a factor in TFC’s win. He created two chances in the first half, had a shot and made four tackles. He had 41 touches and had the best passing percentage in the first 45 minutes, when TFC staked a territorial, tactical and physical claim to the game that they simply never let go.
It was Osorio’s third consecutive start in the post-season. His coach trusted him when it was needed most … and who knows how far this thing will go? Now 25, Osorio also appears to have piqued the interest of new Canadian men’s coach Octavio Zambrano, for whom Osorio scored his first international goal in September and who is trying to convince Osorio that he needs to see himself less as an attacker and more of a two-way player.
More graft. Less imagined glitter.
“For Oso … you know, he wasn’t in the team for a lot of the year, but late in the year he was so sharp, so committed, and he came in the team and gave us some things and … I’m just so happy and proud for him,” Altidore said later, as he nodded toward Osorio’s locker. “Because he’s a Canadian boy, you know? He loves Toronto, and for him to do this and do it for him … I’m just so proud of him.”
Unlike TFC’s two-legged conference final victory, when Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter put together maybe the two-most impressive tactical TFC defensive efforts an opponent has thrown at TFC this season, the Sounders were over-run from the start. When it was done TFC had 22 total shots (including blocked shots) to seven for the Sounders. TFC won 77 per cent of the individual duels in the first half and 71 per cent overall, the first statistic pulled out by Schmetzer in his post-match news conference.
Clint Dempsey? Nicolas Lodeiro? Jordan Morris – one of the next bright young things in U.S. soccer? Rumours. The Sounders’ statistical proclivity of attacking down the left side, something they did more than any other MLS team during the regular season? Irrelevant. Vanney’s decision to employ a midfield diamond out of a 4-4-2, shelving the 3-5-2 TFC has ridden much of the past two seasons, put his best players in position to have the ball as often as possible.
All they had to do was score.
No, really: that’s all.
Until Altidore barged his way down the middle of the pitch and beat Sounders keeper Stefan Frei, it sure looked and smelled a lot like last season. Kind of still did until Victor Vazquez put home the second goal.
Patience, eh? Funny thing: a fan base that at times surely must have felt as if it wasted a great deal of emotional capital on this lot since 2007 … well, they don’t need any lectures on patience. A city that hasn’t had one of its own franchises beat a U.S.-based franchise in a major championship since Joe Carter touched them all in 1993 – no slap at the Argonauts, even though I’m sure you’ll take it that way – well, my guess is even those who haven’t been part of the coolest scene in Toronto sports cracked a smile at the scenes that went on here down by the lakefront. What’s a few more minutes, after all.
Patience, right Jonathan?
“My family helped me a lot this year – all of them, my grandparents … they helped me get through the times when I felt like I deserved more (playing time),” Osorio said. “I learned some virtues this year. The biggest was patience … and that paid off today.”
Osorio smiled when Altidore’s comment was relayed to him, its meaning not lost any more than the ovation he received from his people – his city – when he was subbed out.
“I think more than anything I’ve always had the quality, but my mentality has gotten so much stronger,” Osorio said. “It’s gone to a level I couldn’t have imagined and I hope it doesn’t stop. Because I have a long career ahead of me.”
BMO Field. Home of Champions. Home of Jonathan Osorio.
Same thing, now.