TORONTO — Most players thrive in stable environments, where expectations are clear and roles are defined.
Jonathan Osorio didn't have that luxury for the first three years of his professional career.
Now 24 years old and in his fifth season with Toronto FC, Osorio became a professional during a tumultuous time in the club's checkered history. As a 20-year-old rookie looking to break in with the first team in early 2013 after joining TFC's academy just months prior, Osorio joined a preseason training camp that didn't even have its head coach for the first few weeks. Ryan Nelsen had agreed to become Toronto's head coach in January 2013, but he spent the early part of that preseason playing as a central defender for then-Premier League side QPR.
It was that unprecedented scenario that served as the backdrop for Osorio's rookie campaign, as the neophyte professional vied for a job under the auspices of an equally inexperienced coach.
Osorio did win himself a first-team job that year, and since then he has gone on to become the player with the most appearances in TFC's history. And while things have stabilized at the club recently, it was a rocky road at first for the young player.
With Nelsen learning on the job, Osorio found himself utilized at many different positions during his rookie campaign. Too good to be kept off the field, but not obviously good enough to be kept at any one position for a struggling side, Osorio bounced around the pitch until he found his form.
"I think in the first year with Ryan Nelsen I started off playing in the middle of a two-man midfield, and then when I really got going is when they moved me out wide," Osorio told Goal. "Moving me out wide just allowed me to see the whole field so everything was in front of me and I could see everything happening, and that helped me a lot to transition back into the [central] midfield."
Osorio credits his time without a set position under Nelsen as helping him to adjust to different on-field situations. When Nelsen was fired in September 2014 and replaced by current boss Greg Vanney, Osorio didn't miss a beat.
"With Greg we started playing in the diamond and I was playing at the side of the diamond, and that was a bit of a change for me as well," Osorio said. "Something I had to adapt to."
It didn't stop there, however.
"I also tried a little bit of the top of the diamond, which allowed me to be more attacking, and now that we're playing in a new formation, it's more of a No. 8 role," Osorio added. "I think it's my best role. I think being box-to-box, both ways, is what I'm best at. Obviously I'm more offensive-minded but I think I've improved a lot defensively over the years."
Along with Osorio's changing positions came wholesale changes in personnel over the four seasons he has been with TFC, and the constant turnover eventually led to improvement on the field for the team. While that has been a net positive, it also meant more competition for Osorio's spot in the lineup.
"Over the years the club has brought in guys to play in the same position as I play in, and that's only made me get better as a player," Osorio said. "It's made me be more competitive in training to win my position. So far, [with] everybody they've brought in I've found a way to stay on the field. All that is good for me."
As someone who has thrived with change throughout his career thus far, Osorio said he welcomes the competition that accompanies an improving side with rising expectations.
"This team has gotten a lot better and came a long way since the first year I was playing," he said. "There's a lot of competition at every position and that's how the team has gotten better."
With TFC finally settling down and becoming one of the elite clubs in MLS — thanks, ironically, in large part to stability in the front office and among the player personnel — Osorio sees his next challenge not in trying to prove himself alongside a revolving door of teammates and formations, but rather through improvement in what he already does well.
"I think keeping the team in possession is my biggest strength," Osorio said. "My feet, my technical ability, I feel that is really, really good. All these things, all my strengths, I want to keep improving."
Another part of becoming a better professional is the ability to identify weaknesses, as well as dealing with the kind of criticism that is part of playing for a club in a market the size of Toronto — especially as a hometown kid on a team viewed as championship calibre.
Osorio acknowledges his finishing ability as his biggest weakness, adding that it's "pretty clear" that's where most of the criticism of his game has come from fans and the media.
"I would say that the thing that needs most improving is just the final product," Osorio said. "Getting more stats — more goals, more assists — and completing the final product. I think I have everything before that, I think I get into good positions, I create dangerous occasions, I just have to improve on finishing them off."
Vanney has made Osorio one of the first names on his team sheet over the course of his time as TFC boss, but even the head coach has publicly spoken about Osorio's ability to become more "goal dangerous" as the key factor that will thrust the midfielder into the next level.
It's something Osorio himself is keenly aware of, and he says he's working on it.
"I think I'm doing a good job of getting into these [more advanced] places and I think the amount of times that I am dangerous now has increased over the years, and that just comes with experience," Osorio said. "The final stages and the finished product, I think if I can [add that] to my game I'll turn a lot of heads."
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