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Time is running out for Toronto FC’s in-demand depth players

Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper may find their futures lie elsewhere, but they could still have a role to play this year.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Ottawa Fury FC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC probably could have dealt Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper by now.

Shortly after the MLS summer transfer window closed in August, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko admitted that “virtually every player” on the Reds’ roster has been the subject of interest from another club at one point or another.

And the Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson suggested that Osorio and Cooper were “among TFC’s most sought-after assets” leading up to the deadline.

That is unsurprising for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, both are good players. Cooper is less than a year removed from injecting new life into a midfield that took Toronto to the MLS Cup final, while Osorio has been a regular in the league since age 20 and still has his best years ahead of him.

Both have dropped out of TFC’s starting lineup this season, though, making them interesting ‘buy low’ candidates for other clubs. Normally, it might have made sense for Toronto to move them for some allocation money or other assets they could use in the winter.

While Victor Vazquez and Marky Delgado are around, it’s hard to see a way back in for either of them.

But this is not a normal year. Toronto might never get a better shot at winning an MLS Cup with their current core than they have right now. Vazquez, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Drew Moor, after all, are not getting any younger.

This year, Bezbatchenko wants to keep “players who can support the team and be team players”, so he decided against pulling the trigger on deals to send away two many would consider surplus to requirements.

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

While Osorio and Cooper’s longer-term futures are unlikely to lie in Toronto, for now they are here.

They have stayed because every little contribution can make a difference in a playoff run, but to benefit from that TFC will now need to reintegrate them into the first-team picture.

Sometimes when a player is short of form or confidence - or both - you have to meet them a little further than halfway. In other words, there may not be a game left this season where anyone thinks Cooper should start ahead of Delgado on merit, but it may be beneficial to throw him in anyway.

If nothing else, it gives Delgado a break and helps to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Ideally, though, you can find a situation in which Cooper is able to turn in a positive performance that can act as a building block to a return to form. Wednesday night’s match against the Philadelphia Union, who have one road win all season, looks a good bet.

It is Toronto’s penultimate midweek game of the regular season and giving Delgado a breather ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Montreal would be useful.

We have not seen Cooper for a month now. After a costly giveaway saw Toronto drop two points against the Colorado Rapids, he sat at his locker-room stall with his head bowed in utter dejection. Some of his teammates had already dressed and left by the time he made his way into the showers.

Many would not complain if Cooper is not seen again all year, but that overstates his decline and overlooks the fact that he turned in two strong performances - against New England and Dallas - before leaving for the Gold Cup.

If he struggles again, he will find another chance difficult to come by.

But at his best, Cooper has a combination of skills every team in MLS would like to add to their playoff arsenal and there is no reason Toronto should be any different.

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Osorio has played just 536 minutes in MLS this season and will not get close to the 2,440 he was on the field for last year, which put him ahead of all three designated players and was good for fourth on the team.

It’s harder to see the Canadian playing a significant role from here on out than Cooper because he has simply not learned Delgado’s No. 8 role to the required standard and is not going to be used ahead of Vazquez in important moments.

To make matters worse, Jay Chapman may now have overtaken him as the Spaniard’s stand-in.

Greg Vanney has brought Osorio on as a substitute more times (14) than any other player in the squad, though, which speaks to his ability to take care of the ball.

In the seven substitute appearances Osorio has made since his last start in Columbus in May, in fact, Toronto have outscored their opponent 6-1 over a period of just 111 minutes.

That would seem to be his best shot at carving out a niche and seeing time on the field during the playoffs - particularly should Benoit Cheyrou remain on the sidelines.

If Osorio can continue to demonstrate he is a calm head in possession in pressure situations, there will be minutes for him and no shortage of suitors around the league in the winter.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The complication in all of this, of course, is that Toronto will not be content to stumble into the playoffs this year.

They want the Supporters’ Shield and they want the all-time points record to go with it.

That is going to demand a lot of them through the final couple of months of the regular season and limit the amount of rotation and experimentation they can get away with.

But while topping the 1998 LA Galaxy’s all-time best of 68 points would be a magnificent achievement, Toronto need to keep their eyes on the silverware and continue to make use of their squad.

Not to do so would be to risk burning out the first-choice starting XI and sidelining depth players who may end up being needed in crucial moments.

Osorio and Cooper may have a chance to have a big say in Toronto’s season yet, or they may not. What’s important is that they are prepared for the possibility.