Toronto FC have three games remaining in the 2022 MLS regular season.
When the league resumes following the September international break, the Reds will host Inter Miami CF at BMO Field on September 30 and travel to face the red-hot Philadelphia Union on October 9, Decision Day.
But before all that TFC travel to Florida for a clash with Orlando City SC on Saturday.
Seven points shy of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend, odds are long, but that is not the only thing worth playing for.
“We're all frustrated that we're not in a better spot for sure,” said Jonathan Osorio on Thursday. “I'm frustrated that I couldn't be part of those really important games that I missed. I wanted to be out there.”
“We’re frustrated, but at the same time we’ve got to keep going no matter what happens and every game go in with the mentality that we're going to win,” he continued. “So these last three games we’ll go with the mentality to get nine points.”
Since Bob Bradley was announced as sporting director and head coach the club has been undergoing a process of evolution. Through off-season roster changes, preseason and the summer transfer window it continued, training session by training session, game by game. It doesn’t stop when the math tells it to. It is ongoing.
“We understand the steps and the work to become a really good team. It doesn't start at the beginning of preseason and then end at some point when it’s not going your way or you're out of contention or even on the last whistle of the season,” Bradley explained. “It's a continuation of work, of building a roster, trying to make guys better.”
“To set the tone so that everybody understands that even with three games left training has to be the right way, you’ve got to get the most out of each game, and then at whatever moment the season ends, how do we keep going in this whole thing,” he continued. “There's been a lot of work that's gone into it. It's been challenging, but eventually it's going to get us somewhere.”
“It doesn't always go as fast as anybody wants,” Bradley added. “In a perfect world you could make some changes and things just immediately happen, but that’s not usually the way it works.”
Even the best laid plans can be hobbled by injury.
Toronto has played much of the last several weeks without two key midfielders: Mark-Anthony Kaye picked up a knock in his debut and Jonathan Osorio, joint top-scorer, has missed the last four matches.
There has still only been that 45 minutes against Charlotte FC where Bradley had his full team available.
“We've not had the opportunity this year to have an extended run of games where you feel like as things are jelling the same guys are available,” assessed Bradley. “That becomes a factor.”
The injury front appears to be clearing for the most part. Lorenzo Insigne, who missed the last match, was back on the training pitch heading into the weekend, as was Osorio. Chris Mavinga and Doneil Henry look to be unavailable.
“I'm feeling much better, more so in the last couple of weeks,” said Osorio, whose condition was something of a mystery. “What I've been dealing with started when I got the hit against Chicago on the left side of my head. At first, it seemed like a concussion, it was giving me concussion symptoms.”
That Chicago match was on July 13. Osorio missed the next match against CF Montreal in concussion protocol, but returned to face Charlotte later that month. He then played the next six matches before being forced out following the Miami game on August 20.
“I was back quick and the reason why I was able to play – I don't know how to say this in scientific ways, but the best way I can explain is the right side of my brain was compensating for my left, my left wasn't working properly. We couldn't figure that out right away,” he explained. “Against Miami I started to feel symptoms get worse. And that's when I felt that maybe it was still a concussion injury.”
“Then speaking with the training staff, we figured out that it wasn't exactly that, it was that the left side of my brain wasn't really working and we had to get it going again,” he detailed. “And so with the exercises I've been doing and everything, it has helped that come back and slowly helping the symptoms go away.”
Osorio called it a “neurological dysfunction”.
“Physically I didn’t feel well because my head was not right,” he outlined. “I was getting headaches that were really bothering me, affecting my vision and stuff like that. It was scary.”
After a variety of consultations, treatment has had its effect.
“PRI exercises and I have in my hand here a mouth guard that helps my jaw realign with the top [of my head],” said Osorio. “It's gone good. We've been day-to-day. When I've tried to come back in the past, the symptoms came on like a day or two days later after the first day of training in full.”
The midfielder hopes to be available for Saturday’s action.
“Hopeful, yeah,” Osorio replied. “I think I'm right there. I truly feel I'm right there. Knock on wood [knocks on table]. Let's see how tonight I react and tomorrow we'll see.”
His absence has been felt.
“For me there are certain players in the team that become keys, in terms of trying to continue to develop, for the football to get better, for the team to gain momentum and continue to grow,” said Bradley. “Is Oso one of those important players? Absolutely.”
“There's no doubt that when you take certain guys that make a difference, that give your team control, that give your team some special qualities in attack, that become the backbone of a good team,” he continued. “When those guys are not on the field and you have to find ways to deal with that, other guys get chances, but yeah, you lose something.”
Should Osorio be ready to go, the midfield three of Michael Bradley, Kaye, and Osorio will be reunited in Orlando.
With the end of the season fast approaching, Toronto expects a fierce contest.
Orlando City enter the weekend in fifth-place on 42 points – tied with FC Cincinnati in sixth and one ahead of Columbus in seventh – but they know that a whole host of teams are hot on their heels.
Oscar Pareja’s side will have been buoyed by their 3-0 victory over Sacramento Republic FC in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last Wednesday – the first piece of silverware in the club’s history. Losses in their last two league outings – including a 5-1 dismantling at Philadelphia and 1-0 at home versus Atlanta United midweek – will have them eager to shore up their position.
Austrian forward Ercan Kara leads the side with nine goals in 25 appearances, while Mauricio Pereyra and Facundo Torres have nine assists apiece.
“Before you get the tactics, having lost two games in a row we have to expect them to really focus on the importance of this game at home,” cautioned Bradley. “Orlando is always a well-organized, physically strong team. A mix of talents, different types of players, different backgrounds, but a solid, organized, always tough opponent.”