Jonathan Osorio got his happy ending. In the MLS Cup final, the Canadian delivered what was perhaps the best performance of his career to help Toronto FC secure their first-ever championship.
But the road to that point wasn’t an easy one. Osorio struggled early in the season, lost his starting role, and ultimately played the fewest minutes of any year in his professional career. He started only nine matches during the regular season.
As part of a frustrating process to get back into the gameday eleven, he had to make changes in his game in order to carve out a role for himself. A season that was supposed to be the 25-year-old’s breakout campaign turned out to be one where he redefined expectations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a setback.
Going into this season there was a lot of hope that Osorio’s impressive end to 2016 offensively would translate into more goals. Toronto FC desperately needed more goals from the midfield, and Osorio looked like the most promising option. Ultimately, it was Victor Vazquez who delivered on that front.
Instead, this season made it pretty clear that Osorio’s production might never significantly improve. Throughout his career, his xG (expected goals) number has never really changed, averaging 2.2 per season. He had a career low of 1.29 this year according to American Soccer Analysis, but that was largely down to a lack of playing time as his expected goals per 90 minutes remained similar to other seasons.
Five seasons ago, when a young Osorio played his debut campaign, the five goals he scored made it look like perhaps he could deliver offensively. His historical numbers now suggest he just got a bit lucky.
But Toronto FC no longer need Osorio to show up on the scoresheet. Instead, he improved in other ways this season. For one, his touch percentage, which measures the share of the ball a player has while on the field, has risen steadily the past few years. This year it was a career-high 22%, suggesting Osorio is getting more involved in play.
He also had the highest pass success percentage of any player on the team with a solid 89.8%. According to WhoScored that was the sixth-best rate in the entire league. He was also dispossessed less often than he has ever been in his career, averaging only once per match.
This ability in possession makes Osorio incredibly useful for Toronto FC, especially in a diamond midfield. He can move the ball forward with accuracy and efficiency, and while he isn’t taking the final shot or making the final pass he has shown the ability to get the ball to those players.
The MLS Cup Final is an example of how, without really factoring in on either goal, Osorio can be a difference maker for Toronto FC. His ability to make sure Toronto kept the ball and kept it moving contributed immensely to the pressure they were able to put on Seattle, who ultimately cracked under its weight.
His abilities also help in the defensive sense as well, related to one of the simplest yet truest clichés in sports: if your team has the ball the opposition can’t score. Osorio was brought on in order to see out games by helping Toronto maintain possession. It was proof Osorio’s refined game can be effective when TFC need a goal or are trying to prevent one.
What Osorio needs now is the ability to play like this more consistently. He has struggled at the start of the year the past two seasons, and only played his best when the playoffs rolled around. Stepping up in the big moments isn’t a bad thing, obviously, but TFC will have big moments at the start of this year as well.
This year proved that Osorio may never be the offensive force that he looked like is his rookie season. But he proved in 2017 that he can be dominant in other ways.