It was always going to be him.
For all John Herdman’s talk of a leadership group made up of Sean Johnson, Shane O’Neill, Lorenzo Insigne, and Federico Bernardeschi, Jonathan Osorio was the frontrunner for the armband the second Michael Bradley called an end to his time in Toronto.
In fact, he was earmarked by most as the successor a long time before Bradley’s retirement. And rightly so.
There’s no one in the TFC dressing room who better understands what it means to be a Red than Osorio. Now the sole remaining player from the championship squad of 2017, the midfielder has the opportunity to symbolize the bridge between the highs of the late 2010s and the good times that still seem far away.
“It’s difficult for me because I have an intimate connection with the club that is different, I would say, from anyone else here,” he said during the end-of-season presser in early November. “I will do everything on my part to turn this around.”
During that infamous media day, Osorio admitted that there was a divide within the squad and that he and his teammates didn’t do a good enough job of keeping the drama in-house. We shouldn’t expect things to change overnight just because Oso has the armband now, but it can symbolize a new beginning for a team that needs to put 2023 way back in the rearview.
A born Torontonian, Osorio has been honest about how his club has fallen, but he’s said all the right things with regard to how he will help lift it to heights not seen in years. The thing is, this team doesn’t look a whole lot different on paper when you compare the group in preseason training with the squad that ended last season dead last in Major League Soccer. It’s imperative that the mindset within the team is turned 180 degrees nonetheless. John Herdman will now count on Osorio to be a guiding voice for a transition that both he and the fans will expect.
And Osorio doesn’t just say the right things; he believes them, he embodies them.
“He has the ability to connect with his teammates and everyone in the club,” Herdman said via Tuesday’s press release. “He is passionate, emotional, and has the character to lead the squad, and he is committed to bring success to this club and make the fans proud.”
Passion and emotion were both in short supply in 2023 and it was plain to see for anyone tuning into a match or turning up to BMO Field. Osorio well and truly cares about his hometown club and his desire to do right by the badge is a sentiment that supporters want to see spread through every corner of the roster.
On the pitch, Osorio’s own performances in 2023 didn’t quite live up to the lofty standards he had set in years past. In 2022, he was a lone bright spot for another poor side, finishing the year with nine goals and four assists even though he missed a chunk of time due to a concussion. Fans will hope that the armband, his former national team coach, or maybe both help unlock that kind of form again and that Osorio can be a type of catalyst once more.
For a club that hasn’t been able to get anything right over the past couple of years, Tuesday’s captaincy announcement was something of a layup, one they converted despite the long delay in confirming the news.
So much remains to be determined for TFC, and it’s been difficult to feel truly excited for the season that’s to come given the lack of squad investment or even turnover, as well as the questions about the long-term commitment of the team’s two highest-paid players.
That uncertainty will need to be settled eventually, but in the meantime, the decision to make Osorio captain is a small step in the right direction for a club that needs to find itself again. It will take a whole lot of small steps for TFC to get out of the rut they are in, but they can get there eventually. Tuesday’s captaincy announcement showed they are at least putting their best foot forward.
It’s certainly not all on Osorio to drag this club back to where it belongs. But his performances in the middle of the pitch and attitude off it can go a long way in influencing what this team can be in the months to come.