A few moments stand out as highlights of Jonathan Osorio’s 2017 season; his two goals in the playoffs, his first Voyageurs Cup and the greatest half-time interview in Toronto FC history.
I don't know why but this is easily my favorite halftime interview ever. pic.twitter.com/j0muV1Bb5o— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 4, 2016
“Our friggin’ midfielders are losing [the ball] too much,” he memorably bemoaned at half-time of the 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake. It was typically Osorio; blunt and forthright, but accountable and demanding of both himself and those around him. As one of those midfielders, he was happy to tell everyone watching that they should expect him to do better.
So while some players - especially those at the top of their club’s all-time appearances chart - would be disconcerted by the arrival of a high-profile new signing in their position, Osorio showed no signs of insecurity at all while talking to Waking the Red after training on Wednesday. It almost seemed like the arrival of Victor Vazquez was validating for him; Toronto had to go and sign an old teammate of Lionel Messi’s to feel they were improving upon what they already had. The kid that grew up dreaming of clubs like Barcelona is now rubbing shoulders with its alumni.
“It’s great to have him, actually,” Osorio said. “This guy has so much experience at one of the biggest clubs in the whole world, he went to a very good league in Europe and won player of the year, so a very well-respected guy in this club.
“This is how it is on the good teams all around the world - there’s competition in the club and if anything, I love it. I’m glad he’s come and I’ll have to fight with him and others for position on the field - that’s the way it is.”
Vazquez also offers Osorio - and Jay Chapman, for the matter - a window into the methods of the club with the best record in the world at producing creative midfielders. Though he already holds that appearances record, at age 24 it is not a huge stretch to suggest Osorio’s prime lies at the other end of Vazquez’s probable lifespan at TFC.
“Of course, I can always learn,” he said of incorporating parts of the Spaniard’s skill set into his own game. “He’s played for a longer time and… he appreciates everything that he’s learned is because of Barcelona. That’s huge, that says a lot. Anything I see him do in practice I try to take it and use it for myself as well.
“He’s just very, very smart with his movements, his positioning to put himself in positions to make dangerous passes. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen. His technical ability is very obvious, that’s easy to pick out, but one of the things is his ability to find spots to put himself in dangerous positions.”
While the assumption has been that Osorio will compete directly with Vazquez, however, both the player and Greg Vanney do not necessarily see it that way. “I think Armando [Cooper] and Osorio are more similar,” the coach opined. “They’re wigglers, guys who can receive the ball off balance and under pressure and get going the other way.”
Adding more direct involvement in goals to his game would certainly be one way Osorio could ensure he continues to see plenty of time on the pitch in 2017, but so could rounding out his profile to become a more complete midfield player. To compete with Cooper, who acts more as the No. 8 of the team with responsibilities in both halves of the field, will require defensive acumen that Osorio believes he possesses to a greater degree than people think.
“I like [the 3-5-2],” he continued. “I have to help out on defence a lot more than you do at the tip of the diamond, but I like it. It’s funny, because you guys, the media and whatever, the ‘experts’” - he drags the ‘s’ derisively - “have always said I have to work on my defending and stuff like that, especially in my past years. But I think I’ve shown - especially last year - that I’ve improved that a lot, that I’m not a one-way player, that I can play two ways, so honestly I like that we’ve switched to this formation.”
He certainly can be credited with playing an important role in the way Toronto pressed teams into submission in last season’s playoffs and has continued to work on his speed and strength this winter. “[The 3-5-2 system is] so good for our team,” he emphasizes. “We get to press up higher or get chances to win the ball up higher, which makes us closer to goal. With the players that we have, as close as we can be to the goal for the majority of the game, the more dangerous opportunities and the more dangerous as a team we’re going to be.”
Intriguingly, after not scoring his first MLS goal of the season until September, Osorio scored three in the seven games at the end of the season in which Toronto deployed the new formation. Was that a consequence of the tactical switch or just a good run of form at the right time? “I think both,” Osorio reflects. “The formation definitely helped, pressing higher helped.
“The goal against New York was because we were pressing high, we won the ball and I was close enough to the box to get in and it came to me, so yeah, that helped. But also I think I just hit my stride at the end of the season, I hit form, and I was playing well.”
Osorio started well before fading in a season-opening performance that featured elements of rust throughout the team at Real Salt Lake, and dismissed the suggestion Toronto could simply pick up where they had left off last year.
“No, it’s never like that,” he said. “I mean, yeah, when you talk about experience-wise and being game ready, yes, but it’s just the first game - you have to get used to the intensity again and everything again so that part has to come back with games. But as far as how high we went and our expectations, that stays the same.”