TORONTO – Jonathan Osorio didn’t see it coming.
Like some of his other Toronto FC teammates, the Canadian midfielder was shocked when he learned TFC was selling Victor Vazquez to a team in Qatar, a transaction that the club announced on Tuesday on the first day of pre-season training camp.
But after speaking with Vazquez and learning what a great long-term opportunity it is for him and his family, Osorio understood why he asked for the transfer move. That being said, there’s no denying the departure of the influential Spaniard is a big loss for the Canadian outfit.
For the longest time, TFC searched for a creator of Vazquez’s calibre — someone who would serve as the key midfield link, who could provide quick and quality service to the forwards. When TFC signed Vazquez prior to the 2017 campaign, the hope was that he would put the team over the top and help lead them to glory after it fell short in the 2016 MLS Cup final.
Vazquez proved to be the last piece of the puzzle for TFC in 2017, playing a starring role in a historic treble campaign that saw the Reds win the MLS Cup, the Canadian Championship and the Supporters’ Shield, as well as set the record for most points (69) in a regular season.
“He meant so much to this club. He was the key piece we needed in order to fulfill our objective, which was MLS Cup,” Osorio said on Wednesday. “I think he’ll [go] down in history forever for his time here.
“What he did was incredible. He’s an amazing footballer. I told him before he left [that] he’s one of the best footballers I’ve ever played with in my career.”
Vazquez, who came up through Barcelona’s youth academy before making a name for himself at Belgian side Club Brugge, had a profound impact on Osorio. It’s no coincidence that the ascent of Osorio into one of TFC’s best and most consistent players over the last two seasons coincided with the arrival of Vazquez, a creative playmaker who made his teammates that much better.
“He’s someone I looked up to, the one who I looked to play like, in a way. I think we’re a little bit different, but as far as creating, he was the best example of that. He made me a way better player,” Osorio admitted.
What will Vazquez’s departure mean for Osorio this coming season? Will the Canadian be asked to take on some of the Spaniard’s former responsibilities? Or will the club try to replace Vazquez by signing another new player or two? It’s too early to tell.
“The change just happened; I think [the club] is still trying to figure it out as well. We’ll see if my role changes. I’m going to go compete the way I always do, the way I’ve always done in my career,” Osorio promised.
Osorio enjoyed the best year of his career in 2018, scoring 17 goals and tallying eight assists in 43 games in all competitions for Toronto. His 10 goals in MLS ranked second on TFC behind Sebastian Giovinco (15).
Osorio won the Golden Boot award as the top scorer in the CONCACAF Champions League and he was named to the tournament’s all-star team, playing a pivotal role in helping the Reds reach the finals. He also claimed the George Gross Memorial Trophy given to the MVP of the Canadian Championship tournament, as Toronto won the competition for a third consecutive year.
A 26-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., Osorio signed a new long-term contract with TFC in last August that made him “one of the highest-paid Canadian players in the world,” according to club president Bill Manning.
But Osorio, who had sports hernia surgery this off-season, maintains nothing has changed for him.
“I’m still as hungry as I was at the beginning of last year. The circumstances, obviously, are different but you don’t rest after you get a good deal. You don’t rest – you keep going,” Osorio said.
Hamilton, Endoh signed by Toronto FC
Toronto FC announced Wednesday that it has signed midfielder Tsubasa Endoh and forward Jordan Hamilton to new contracts.
Hamilton, a 22-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., has made 51 appearances in all competitions for TFC, scoring 10 goals and tallying five assists. His contract expired at the end of 2018.
Endoh, 25, played with the TFC II farm club in the USL last season. He was originally selected ninth overall by Toronto FC from the University of Maryland in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. In two MLS campaigns with Toronto, Endoh made 30 appearances with three goals and one assist.
Endoh, from Japan, is in the middle of completing his application for permanent residency in Canada, which would make him a “domestic” player under MLS rules. Until then he takes up an “international” spot on TFC’s roster.
Reds continue training camp in California
Toronto FC will fly out on Friday to California where they will stage the next phase of their pre-season training camp until Feb. 14.
Vanney said a group of roughly 40 players will be in California, a list that includes all the players currently under contract, some members of the team’s youth academy and TFC II, as well as trialist midfielder Richie Laryea. The Canadian is without a team after Orlando City declined his contract option at the conclusion of last season.
With the signing of Endoh and Hamilton, TFC now has 27 players on its roster. Vanney has already said the club will add a third goalkeeper, and that they could replace Vazquez with one or even two other players.
TFC is still trying to secure Argentine forward Lucas Hanson on loan again this season. Vanney also revealed that loaning out young players to other teams in lower leagues is also a possibility, which would potentially open up roster spots for TFC to make other moves.