In basketball, they’re referred to as a “Swiss army knife” player. In baseball, you’ll often hear the term “utility infielder” used. Both describe a player on the bench, who’s available to the manager to make an impact as an in-game substitute, and can often play more than one position.
These unicorns are a bit more rare in soccer, but have existed to some extent. The idea of a one-man “total futbol” player on their bench is a luxury that every serious team would love to have, but few can afford.
In the previous decade of Toronto FC soccer, I can’t recall even one. Until now.
Meet the Brazilian version of ‘La Formica Atomica’: Auro.
A few weeks back, WTR asked in a tweet whether by season’s end Auro would prove to be an important signing. I would think that to some extent the question was rhetorical, and an overwhelming amount of TFC fans agreed in the affirmative. It was a sign that the fanbase was excited by the young Brazilian in his limited work up until that point.
And then came Leg 2 in Monterrey, Mexico against Tigres UANL, and that unfortunate early injury to Justin Morrow. If you were following along on Twitter that night, to say there was some concern on who could possibly replace Morrow on the left wing would be an understatement. It was borderline despair for a minute or two. The names all ran through our heads. Kristin Knowles of The Vocal Minority had almost talked me into Ashtone Morgan when the fourth official held up the substitution sign indicating that the player replacing Morrow would be no. 96 Auro.
Wait. Auro is a right wing back. Can he even play on the left side? we all collectively wondered. A few minutes of play later, the answer came back as a resounding Yes! Once Auro entered the game, the pace on the left side improved with more connecting runs, and even some semblance of service to Sebastian Giovinco on the wide wing. All of a sudden, Gregory van der Wiel looked more freed to meet the attack higher up, as the overlapping runs of Auro provided protection for him.
It was unfortunately difficult to get a full sense of what Auro could have done in that game, as Chris Mavinga’s injury put a burden on the defence that required more than the usual amount of midfield support against a stifling Tigres attack. However, the signs of hope were firmly planted that night, and any of the other appearances made by Auro thus far have done little to dissuade me that we may be looking at a very important player for Toronto FC’s future.
The luxury of having someone on your bench who can play on either side, and in both a defensive or an offensive role, has to have manager Greg Vanney giddy in a way few other players have been able to excite. Even looking at when Auro makes deep probing runs on the wings, a la 2016-17 Steven Beitashour, there is an excitement on the attack, and his offensive skills have shown that he is capable of more than just a blind lob of the ball into the 18-yard box. Have you seen anything from Auro that would suggest he couldn’t play a wide attacking midfielder role if needed in a game where TFC sorely needed a goal? Would it be far fetched to suggest that he couldn’t even play striker in a pinch if needed? He certainly has the speed and the offensive flair, and he towers over Sebastian Giovinco by at least a good inch, so we know size isn’t an issue. The possibilities of when and where Vanney deploys Auro will only continue to grow this season and beyond, as I’m confident that if Auro stays on the current trajectory, Sao Paulo FC will soon be told that TFC would like to make this loan a permanent move. GAM and TAM be damned to figure out later.
Where Toronto FC goes in 2018, still depends on the names Bradley, Giovinco, Altidore, Vazquez and Mavinga… but how easy they get there will depend on the role players. With Auro taking more and more of that role, the road will have a lot less bumps, and a few more exciting twists and turns. I can’t wait to see the full potential of Auro unleashed.