TORONTO — Entering his ninth season with Toronto FC, Jonathan Osorio said his off-season goals were not much different than in the past.
Prepare for what's ahead. And be ready for anything.
Words to live by during a global pandemic.
Despite COVID-19, Osorio was able to stick to his off-season routine. With regular testing, those in Toronto were able to use the club's training ground regularly.
Just 28, Osorio ranks first in all-time appearances for TFC with 263 outings in all competitions. He has grown from the local boy from Brampton to one of the team leaders, a veteran who has captained both club and country.
He's looking to take his game to the next level this season.
"I'm very committed every off-season to try and get better," Osorio said Friday. "I tried to get better in every way possible, especially trying to maintain my fitness. And I had that camp in early January with Canada which was helpful for me to get going."
Each off-season, he focuses on improving or adding something. He says it shows in the versatility of his game.
"I take pride in being a total footballer, in the sense that you can rely on me anywhere you play me. Whatever the team needs to win, I can do it. So this year it's about doing the same thing but doing it at a more efficient rate."
He says it's also about stepping up to being one of the team's key contributors.
Osorio and Toronto have been in camp since Feb. 17, granted an early start on pre-season thanks to the upcoming Canadian Championship final against Forge FC.
The MLS regular season kicks off April 17 with Toronto planning to take up residence in the U.S. again because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. TFC finished out the 2020 campaign playing out of East Hartford, Conn. This season it looks like Florida beckons, with the hope the team may be able to return to Toronto later in the season.
Osorio will miss home given being able to see family and friends daily allows players to detach from football. "It's a refreshing feeling," he said.
But he says the club is prepared to become road warriors again.
"That's the mentality here. Whatever it is that we have to go through, we go through and we go through together. The mindset is winning everything no matter what comes in the way."
Captain Michael Bradley has already made it clear that no one at the club will use the difficulties facing Canadian teams as an excuse.
Osorio said the time spent in Hartford was tough. "But when we lost, I don't remember anybody saying 'Oh, it's because we weren't at home.' No, we lost because on that day we couldn't get it done. And it's the same this year."
The TFC roster has not changed much.
Veteran defender Laurent Ciman is now an assistant coach with CF Montreal and loanee fullback Tony Gallacher has returned to Liverpool. The club's search for a third designated player continues with Pablo Piatti no longer in the picture.
The major change is the man in charge with Chris Armas taking over from Greg Vanney, who is now running the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Osorio says he is enjoying the new regime.
"Sometimes in football or anywhere, change is good," he said. "It's been a very good first week. A very intense, hard-working first week of pre-season. Guys are excited and full of energy. And the coach is instilling that in us. His energy is contagious. He seems very committed and excited to be working here. And we feed off that as players."
As for Vanney's departure, Osorio said everyone understood what he wanted — professionally and for his family. "It made sense," he said.
He says new leadership can be "a breath of fresh air."
Armas has said he wants his team to be dangerous on and off the ball, pressing the opposition to make mistakes. As a result, Osorio says the 2021 side will look a little different on the field.
"I wouldn't say a totally different way of playing but definitely a little bit more dangerous side, I guess," he said. "I think that point of being dangerous without the ball as well is going to be something that's maybe a little bit different that in the past in the way we defend and the intensity and everything. And with the ball, the way we attack, will be a little bit different as well.
"But there's a lot of things that Chris wants to keep about the team that the team has had and what has made us successful. But he wants to just add a different dynamic now and instil a little bit of his philosophy."
Teams facing TFC will have to "prepare for a lot of different problems," he added. "It's going to be very hard to beat us, I think."
Toronto (13-5-5) finished second overall in the league last season but faded in the stretch run and was beaten by expansion Nashville SC in the first round of the playoffs.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press