Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss against Inter Miami CF at BMO Field saw several players hit important milestones with Toronto FC.
It was Justin Morrow’s 200th MLS regular season appearance. It was Chris Mavinga and Alex Bono’s 100th MLS regular season appearances. And for Auro Jr., it was his 100th appearance for the club in all competitions.
“It's a very important number and any player would like to achieve those milestones – 100, 200 – you're a part of the history now,” said Auro through a translator on Friday. “It's very important for the life of a player to get those milestones.”
“I was really happy to know that I got this 100th game,” he continued. “I didn't know when I was playing, but I was really happy when I found out after the game, but sad that it didn't go that well because we're not having a great season. But individually, I feel satisfied with everything that I have achieved here so far.”
The Brazilian full-back arrived in Toronto at the start of the 2018 season, one of the three higher profile reinforcements to the club as they braced for the Concacaf Champions League and to defend their MLS Cup title.
Gregory van der Wiel and Ager Aketxe have long since departed, but now in his fourth season the 25-year-old has become a staple of the starting XI.
Having signed with Brazilian giants Sao Paulo FC as a young teenager, Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior, to give him his full name, made his senior debut in 2014, but with a change of coaches found himself on a series of loans, the last of which saw him pick up a season-ending knee injury.
At the age of 22 Auro was at a crossroads. Then the possibility of going abroad came on his radar. He spoke to an old teammate, a former Red, before making that momentous decision.
“Before coming here and before I signed everything I spoke with Gilberto, who I’ve known for a long time,” said Auro – the two were teammates at Sao Paulo. “He told me that it was a great city, a great league, and a great club, and that I was going to do well here and it was a great opportunity for me.”
“The only thing that he mentioned was that it was going to be a very cold city,” he continued. “So I decided that it was good for me to come, to have the experience initially and after a couple of months I was sure that I wanted to stay here because I really liked the city and the club.”
That initial year-long loan quickly became permanent and Auro has made Toronto his home.
His love for the city is plain: a telling tattoo is firmly on display. His English has grown immensely since those early days, but he still feels more comfortable fielding and responding to questions a mix of Portuguese and Spanish.
Auro lives the quiet life of a professional.
“Training in the mornings, when I come home I get some sleep, get some rest, and then in the afternoons I do another training session via video,” he replied, asked what the average day looks like. “And on days when I go out, I go to restaurants with my friends from Brazil that I have here or teammates, we go for dinners and stuff like that. Very chill.”
He hasn’t grown any fonder of the cold weather since making his club debut in the freezing temperatures of a Colorado February in the Champions League, but that hasn’t stopped him from excelling with a Canadian club.
“I got used to it, but I don't like it,” he laughed. “I love being in the hot summer weather like we have in Brazil. It's always hot, but in soccer you have to play whether it’s hot or cold, so I got used to it.”
“But I don't like the cold,” Auro levelled. “Usually when we finish the season it's when it's getting cold, so I’m good with that.”
The raw talent was obvious, Greg Vanney has recounted in the past how the coaching staff’s jaws dropped when Auro first saw action in preseason against Club America, Auro has developed his game since coming to North America.
“I’ve grown a lot as a soccer player, especially because I had to change a little bit the way of playing here,” he recounted. “Here it’s a little bit more tactical and physical, in Brazil it’s more about individual skills and the qualities that you have.”
“Over the years I've learned to play more tactically, more on the position I’m assigned to,” Auro added. “I have to be focused through the season and be ready to play new anywhere, wherever it’s needed.”
Whether at left-back or right, a few times in the midfield, Auro is the embodiment of the ethos that consistency is at the heart of being a professional. Think back: has he ever had a bad game? There is the rare mistake, but 10 times out of 10 the coach knows exactly what he is going to get from Auro.
In his 101st appearance for the club, Auro set up Jacob Shaffelburg’s opening goal with a lovely ball over the Nashville SC back-line. He then showed some attacking skill with a lovely juggling dribble that led to an Ifunanyachi Achara shot, all limiting the opportunities of one of the more dangerous attacks in the league on one side of the ball which helping build attacks on the other.
Perhaps the play from that match that best illustrated Auro’s understated importance came in the second half with Nashville pressing and Toronto protecting a lead. Seemingly caught deep in a defensive corner, CJ Sapong was looking to force a turnover of possession in a fortuitous spot.
Backed to the corner flag, Auro did not panic. He matched Sapong’s strength, shifted and shimmied, wriggling out of a tight spot and leaving the forward scratching his head as to how his plan was foiled. It was a little bit of magic.
That ball for Shaffelburg was his third assist of the season – only Yeferson Soteldo, Alejandro Pozuelo, and Michael Bradley have more – and his 11th all-time in MLS.
He is still waiting for his first goal however, though he did score from the penalty spot in a preseason match against the Columbus Crew this season.
“It's just different the way I play,” said Auro, asked if he was ever a goal-scorer. “If you asked me if I want to score goals or give an assist – of course I would love to score a goal, but if I can help the team in that way, it would be an assist, building the play and being part of it.”
“It doesn't matter if I can score a goal and we don’t win. I would love to score more goals, but when you're a part of the team you want to help the team in any way that you can and building the play, that's what I like,” he smiled. “I don't worry too much about not scoring goals right now.”
At times, when watching Auro, it is easy to forget he is still just 25, his future is wide open.
“I'm still very young, I think I still have years to play,” he replied. “But nothing is certain in soccer, so you cannot really apply what you want; it’s always changing so I don't even know what's going to happen in the next few years.”
“My thing is just enjoy every day, every game that I have and just go day-by-day with everything,” Auro spelled out. “And in the future, a profession, anything related with soccer. Could be a manager or an agent or anything, but only with soccer because that's what I love and what I want to do.”
That his 100th cap came at a difficult time for the club subtracted from the will to celebrate such an occasion, but its importance was not lost.
“It's been a very tough season so far, very complicated. Of course, I'm happy to have reached such a great milestone in a club that I love, in a city that I love, but I didn't really feel like doing anything after the match because we're not having a good season,” Auro explained. “We're a good team that should be in the playoffs, but I'm really happy to have achieved that milestone with the team.”