Jonathan Osorio finds himself in an interesting time and place at the moment as one of the elder statesmen in the Canadian men’s team.
Still only 27, Osorio is entering the prime of his career and has become a reliable veteran for John Herdman’s side, as a new generation of young Canadian talent has established themselves as key contributors, even if many of them are barely 20 years of age.
Herdman’s latest Canadian side featured plenty of new and young faces, including Canadian Premier League MVP Tristan Borges, a player who, like Osorio, brings a fair bit of flair to many attacking roles across the pitch.
Osorio speaks highly of the next generation of Canadian talent that emerged during the team’s January training camp.
“I’ve been very surprised in a positive way,” Osorio said of his new teammates. “There are a lot of young players who have come in and have really bought into the central philosophy we have here at the national team, and they’ve learned the system and structure we have here very quickly.
“Seeing players like Tristan – actually, we have a few CPL players on the team, which is great for this country and that league – but to see players make the national team and being a part of things is huge. It’s only going to grow our game and give players in the (CPL) motivation that it is possible to gain the respect and the eye of the national team coach and having that trust to bring them in.”
It’s not surprising that Osorio would herald this younger crop of talent. Not too long ago, he was considered one of the country’s rising up-and-comers. He quickly made a name for himself at Toronto FC and became a starter within two years. By 2017, Osorio was a key piece to the Reds’ MLS Cup-winning campaign, and was perhaps the best player on the field in the team’s subsequent Concacaf Champions League run.
Along the way, the fleet-footed attacking midfielder bamboozled his MLS peers with a bag of endless tricks and a tenacity unlike many others – in fact, it was because his play was so unlike any other Canadian player that he rose through the ranks. Osorio had flair where others had hustle, which he also boasted, in spades.
By the end of the decade, Osorio had become a key figure for club and country. He recently served as Canada’s captain against Barbados, too, a childhood dream of his. But, in reflecting upon his journey to wearing the armband, the Toronto star shared something quite telling.
“As you get older, you learn to appreciate every moment, so that was a great one for me … ” Osorio began, but as he continued his train of thought and reached what could be a natural conclusion, he, instead, offered another line of thinking.
“… For sure, to come to this point, when a lot of people didn’t–”
Suddenly, a pause. Subtle, but hanging in the air. It seemed for a moment that Osorio would bite his tongue, and rattle off a rehearsed platitude. Instead, he cautiously added.
“–I’ve never been a player that, you know, that this nation has looked forward to seeing how I develop. I’ve never been a ‘young prospect’. People never had me out to be where I am now. So … I’m very proud of being where I’m at.”
Osorio’s journey to this place is unlike many of his current Canadian teammates. Surrounded by representatives of CPL and MLS clubs and their respective academies, all of whom had opportunities at home, Osorio is indeed correct in his self-assessment; for, he and fellow Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini weren’t so highly touted. They didn’t have the chance to shine in front of crowds at Tim Hortons Field or Spruce Meadows or Westhills Stadium.
Instead, the two went down to Uruguay in 2010 to play for a historic South American outfit, Nacional. That’s where a younger Osorio learned how to play football professionally – and where he learned the tricks of his trade in midfield – and for a few years, Osorio and Cavallini silently developed their games, away from the public eye back home in Canada.
When Osorio returned to Toronto a couple years later, a move to Toronto FC materialized, and by 2013, he was already an established figure in the Reds’ lineup, making 28 appearances in his first season of MLS play. Cavallini stayed behind, then moved to Mexico, before he made his own MLS move in 2019 where he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps.
It’s not the usual path – certainly not these days – as Osorio reflected.
“We definitely see ourselves as an example for young Canadians,” Osorio said of himself and Cavallini. “At the time, it was hard for us; there wasn’t much opportunity to play at home, whereas now there is a lot of opportunity to play professionally in Canada. We’re an example of another pathway you can take to get to a high level, and we take great pride in that, and hopefully we’ll see more kids doing that.
“But,” he added, “the biggest thing for Canadian soccer is to find the big talents and try to keep them home and build them. There will be kids that have to go abroad, and maybe come back. We have to find the best way for them to develop to make sure that when they are ready, that they are contributing to the national team in a positive way.”
It may be the opposite of Osorio’s path, and when directly juxtaposed with his next-generation teammates, Osorio isn’t exactly wrong; there was by no means the same amount of buzz or excitement about his development as a player when compared to Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies, Liam Millar, or Borges, for example.
To that end, Osorio figures the whole country has changed the way it embraces talent, for one key reason.
“In the last 10 years, the sport has grown in the country,” Osorio offered. “We’ve been more exposed to better training and there’s a better system than there was 10 years ago. There are more academies and kids are more exposed to the sport.
“The sport has a bigger name in our country, and it’s more popular now. On TV, they’re showing Premier League, Bundesliga, kids are being exposed to Serie A and La Liga and all the big leagues in the world and they’re watching the best players in the world play all the time. Things like that have helped the development of players in this day and age. That’s the biggest difference.”