Osorio is looking to make a full comeback, helping lead Canada to the World Cup in Qatar

Osorio is looking to make a full comeback, helping lead Canada to the World Cup in Qatar

Jonathan OsorioThe long road to the World Cup has not been without obstacles, not to mention the stoppage in Uruguay.

In recent months, the Toronto FC midfielder has been sidelined by post-concussion syndrome – an apparent result of Xherdan Shaqiri’s elbow in the July 13 game against the Chicago Fire.

When the MLS regular season ended on October 9, Osorio was on the sidelines. He had only played 18 minutes since starting on August 18 against Inter Miami. But he says he is back.

“I feel very normal, I feel very good,” said Osorio, among the players who were out for the season, arriving at a camp in Bahrain ahead of the World Cup. “I’ve been in full training and the training is going really well.”

This is good news for both Canada and Toronto FC.

“He’s a very important player for us,” said TFC assistant coach Paul Stalteri, the former Canada captain who earned 84 caps. “You could see when he didn’t play this season we missed him a lot. He’s a good player. He’s a very good player.

“He can play on both sides of the ball. He can play in transition. He can keep your team in possession. He’s a good passer of the ball. He makes a really good run — he’s really good. Makes runs into the (penalty) box to get on the end of a lot of balls and be able to put himself in a good position to score.

Stalteri cites Osorio’s mindset, focus and winning mentality as important components in Toronto’s locker room.

“He’s not a very vocal guy but when you watch his play on the field, it speaks for itself,” Stalteri said. “You can see that he is an important player, not only for our club. But how important he is for the country.”

“The last few weeks on the pitch, he looks sharp, he looks good,” he added. “It looks like he’s ready to go at the right time.”

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While Osorio’s parents were born in Colombia, he was probably raised in Uruguay.

Osorio and forward Lucas Cavalli, childhood friends and fellow Canadian internationals, moved to South America as teenagers where they rose through the unforgiving junior ranks in Uruguay.

Both are walking. Cavalli’s father developed a form of soccer in the family basement in Mississauga, with Lucas and Osorio often pitted against their younger brothers. Osorio grew up speaking Spanish and English at home.

Cavallini, whose father is originally from Argentina, and Osorio played for the Clarkson Soccer Club in Mississauga. A trip to Uruguay led to a trial offer from Club Nacional.

Uruguay prepared its football foundation. And he toughed it out, learning to live with showering in cold water when hot water was among other things.

“All for the dream of one day playing football professionally,” he said.

While they spoke the language, it was not easy. To begin with, they lived in dormitory-style accommodations with young Uruguayans who initially saw them as foreign intruders taking their jobs.

While it was a sudden admission, they grew to earn the respect of their peers.

β€œIt was the most important move of my life β€” even apart from football, just growing as a man,” Osorio said. “It was very important for me to become the person and player that I am now. I owe a lot to Uruguay, I will never forget my time there.

Nacional’s most famous product is forward Luis Suarez, who joined the academy in 2000 and made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old in the 2005-06 season before moving to Europe. The club has named a pitch at its Montevideo training ground after the Uruguayan star.

Now 35, the former Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid star is back with Nacional and helped his boyhood club win the Primera Division in late October.

Osorio spent two years in Uruguay, starting at Under-19 level before deciding to return home at the end of 2011. This led to an invitation from the TFC Academy in September 2012.

Former Toronto manager Ryan Nelson liked what he saw of Osorio in training camp in 2013 and the young midfielder went on to see action in 28 league games that year.

Today Osorio leads Toronto with 318 in all competitions. He is third behind Sebastian Giovinco (83) and Jozy Altidore (79) with 58 goals.

But his club future is up in the air, with the 30-year-old out of contract and making no secret of his desire to play in Europe.

While Osorio played in just 23 MLS games this season, his nine goals and six assists were the second-best totals of his career. He had 10 goals in 2018 and seven assists in both 2015 and ’18.

John Herdman recognized Osorio’s talent from the get-go, inviting him to his first camp as Canada’s men’s coach in March 2018 in Murcia, Spain. The Canadians were ranked 89th in the world at the time.

Before Canada’s final warm-up games against Bahrain and Japan, Osorio had won 36 of his 55 caps under Herdman.

“It was fun to see him at (camp),” Herdman said. Herdman, who was last seen training with Canada in March before Bahrain.

“I have real respect for Jonathan. How excited he is to play for Canada. He brings real tactical intelligence to our team. And (he’s) someone I’m going to lean on for those tactical conversations.

Osorio is also important to Canada off the field, part of its leadership group under Herdman.

“It’s great to have him back … he’s always been a special player,” Canadian defender Alastair Johnston said. “Just his ability to find half positions and not create from nothing. That’s a really important player and that’s one that I think Canada has struggled to produce in our history. It’s a position that really is difficult and I don’t think most of us or the United States for example have done a great job of producing talent like that.

“So when you have someone like that, it’s very important that he’s equipped and firing on all cylinders. In training, he’s been special. He’s back to his best. That’s the Osorio we all have. Know and love. It’s a wonderful time to have him back.

Osorio left his mark in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, helping Toronto reach the final where it defeated Guadalajara in a penalty shootout. Osorio, whose penalty attempt hit the crossbar and bounced off, won the Golden Boot as top scorer and was named to the tournament’s All-Star team.

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