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TFC on the move under captain Osorio, coach Herdman

Toronto FC Jonathan Osorio - The Canadian Press

Toronto FC's home-opening 1-0 win Saturday over Charlotte FC was filled with milestones for captain Jonathan Osorio.

The game marked Osorio's 300th in MLS regular-season and playoff action. And it came 11 years to the day from his debut for his hometown club, replacing Terry Dunfield — now a TFC assistant coach under John Herdman — in the 82nd minute of a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at Rogers Centre.

Osorio was not dwelling on the past, however.

"I was in the moment," he said when asked about the milestones, which he said he didn't know until he was apprised of them after the game.

"That's all great, but honestly all that I really care about is that we won our home opener and we keep in a good way," he added.

The Charlotte win, TFC's third straight clean sheet, moved Toronto (2-0-1, seven points) into sixth place overall in Major League Soccer. Quite the turnaround for the league's worst team last season (4-20-10, 22 points).

Osorio comes from a city replete with sporting leadership. Leafs captains include the likes of Hap Day, Syl Apps, Ted (Teeder) Kennedy, George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin and John Tavares,

TFC's captains' tree is far shorter: Jim Brennan, Dwayne De Rosario, Maicon Santos, Torsten Frings, Darren O'Dea, Steven Caldwell and Michel Bradley.

But Herdman, who coached Osorio with Canada, says the midfielder was key to his decision to leaving the national team to take over TFC on Oct. 1.

"I've worked with (Christine) Sinclair, I've worked with Atiba Hutchinson. Just some great people, some great humans. And they're right in the core of your leadership group," Herdman said. "And if you've got a player with that character, that high-level character, like highest-standard character, you want to work with these people.

"So for me, the conversation coming to TFC (was) ''Are you going to be there? Are you committed? Will you wear the armband? Are you committed to taking this club back — and beyond where it was at?' And he was."

Herdman calls his captain, known simply as Oso, "the hardest-working player on the team."

"You see his quality as well. He's going to do all that selfless running. But he can bring the quality in those moments as well."

Herdman also approvingly repeated Osorio's words Saturday.

"What he said at the end of this (game) sort of summarizes him — 'It's just another step, guys. Just one more step to bringing this club to where it needs to be.'"

"And that's his mentality," Herdman added. "He's always on. Next step, next step, next step. He's never thinking about the last step and he's never willing to stand and wait to be pushed. He's pushing everyone."

Today, Osorio leads the club in appearances at 344 in all competitions, ranks third in goals at 62 (behind Sebastian Giovinco's 83 and Jozy Altidore's 79) and second in assists at 50 (behind Giovinco's 52).

Credit former coach Ryan Nelsen for identifying Osorio as a player to watch early in camp prior to the 2013 season and then gave him his chance to show it.

"Nothing fazes him. Not even bad moments in games," Nelsen said in August 2013. "He always tries to do things positively. Instead of going into his shell, he tries to keep doing stuff. And I love that because the game and life in general rewards those people."

Osorio took the long road to his hometown club, spending two years as a teenager — along with longtime friend and fellow Canadian international Lucas Cavallini — at Club Nacional in Montevideo, Uruguay. He played in the under-19 ranks and reserves before coming home at the end of 2011.

While both he and Cavallini spoke the language — Osorio's parents were born in Colombia while Cavallini's father is originally from Argentina — they were not welcome at first. They lived in dormitory-style accommodations with Uruguayan juniors initially seeing them as foreign intruders looking to take their jobs.

“It was so crucial to me becoming the person and the player that I am now. I owe Uruguay so much, I’ll never forget my time there,” Osorio said in a 2022 interview.

He joined TFC's academy in September 2012 after impressing in the Canadian Soccer League. In February 2013 he was at Toronto's camp in Florida and was included in Nelsen's first starting 11.

He has never left, signing his existing contract in December 2022, a three-year deal with a club option for 2026. His salary of US$1.4 million last season ranked him third on the club behind Italians Lorenzo Insigne (US$15.4 million) and Federico Bernardeschi (US$6.295 million).

Fluent in Spanish, Osorio is equally adept at connecting off the pitch as he is on it.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2024