In many ways, Ashtone Morgan and Jonathan Osorio’s stories are the ones that Toronto FC was created to write. Hometown boys, who grew up watching the games in the stands and were inspired to pull on the red of both TFC and the national team.
It hasn’t happened nearly enough. For every Osorio and Morgan, there have been numerous young Canadians who either didn’t have the talent or didn’t get the opportunity. Even the pair, the most successful “homegrown” talent, has had a rocky road to get here.
But the latest chapter in both of their careers has been something special. As the club fought its way to the most important game in its history, the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final, the pair has been playing the best soccer of their lives.
Ask Toronto FC fans, and they probably wouldn’t care who scored the goals and delivered the big moments that have gotten the team to this point. But it does make the run extra special that a couple of hometown boys have been front and centre.
Should Toronto win tomorrow, Osorio is the frontrunner to win player of the competition. He leads all players in scoring with four goals, already double what he produced all of last season.
More than that, he has used this tournament to firmly establish his reputation as a big game player. Osorio delivered what looks to be a career-altering performance in Toronto’s 2-0 MLS Cup win over the Seattle Sounders and has been riding that confidence wave ever since.
Toronto FC has found an even less likely hero, however, in Ashtone Morgan. Injuries and acquisitions had put the 27-year-old fullback on the very fringes of the club’s roster. Morgan had only started three games since 2015.
After an injury to Justin Morrow in the CCL quarter-finals, Morgan has started three straight games. In that time he scored a massive goal to put Toronto FC up 3-1 against Club America, it was a deficit too big for the Mexican club to overcome.
During that time Jozy Altidore also delivered this telling quote when I asked him about what Morgan means to the club.
“From the day I got here it was more important to get the approval of [Morgan] and [Osorio] and the Toronto boys than anybody else because they’ve been here from the start,” said Altidore. “To see him play today, every time Ash is on the field I want to play well for him because he means a lot to this city and he means a lot of each one of us.”
More than anybody else on the team, Osorio and Morgan understand the trajectory of this club and what it has taken to get to this point. Osorio has pulled on the shirt more than any other player in Toronto FC history, while Morgan has worn it for the longest.
They’ve both gotten to this point because of perseverance and hard work. Morgan fought through injury after injury, new acquisition after new acquisition to find his way back onto the field. Osorio, meanwhile, played the least amount of minutes of his career last season, dropped down the depth chart, but found a way to start the most important game of the year.
“[There was] some really tough times when I felt I deserved more,” Osorio said after winning the MLS Cup. “A big virtue I learned a lot this year is patience.”
Those are the kinds of role-models can make a difference. Guys who young Torontonians themselves, male and female, can look up to and one day hope to follow in their footsteps. People who grew up in the same neighbourhoods and play on the same pitches that these two have long called home.
On the biggest stage, and with so many eyes on the club, that matters. It adds just a little bit more significance to everything Toronto has been able to accomplish.