TORONTO – He may have come to town relatively unknown, but Brazilian right-back Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior, or simply Auro, made a name for himself in his debut against the Colorado Rapids.
With Gregory van der Wiel awaiting the birth of his child, the 22-year native of Sao Paulo made his first appearance for Toronto FC, a week after signing, manning the right back position in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night.
He earned rave reviews in the 2-0 win in Denver against the Rapids, making his mark on the match, despite the shocking disparity between the conditions in Colorado and those he was more accustomed to back home.
“He did a great job,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “He told me this is the first time he's been through anything like this, coming from Brazil.”
Auro helped craft the second goal, racing onto an end-line ball from Marky Delgado to pick out Sebastian Giovinco with an inch-perfect cross in the 73rd minute. Giovinco volleyed the delivery past Tim Howard, Auro earning his first assist for his new club.
“He serves a great ball in and we get something out of it,” said Vanney. “He put in a great shift, showed the quality that he has. A good addition to our group.”
Said TFC Captain Michael Bradley: “From his first training session you could see that he's a young player with a lot of talent. Confident, wants the ball, makes plays, moves into the attack; can come inside, go outside, defensively can take care of things. We're happy to have him with us.”
That such quality would come from Brazil was little surprise.
“There are some good wing-backs in Brazil, internationally some of the best,” said TFC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko on Friday. “The process to look at that market as a place to find players, possibly on loan, started at the end of 2015, start of 2016. [Other MLS teams had found right-backs in Brazil], we liked the attributes they brought: attacking flair, comfort on the ball, their tenacity.”
Auro's pedigree, developing in the Sao Paulo FC system and representing Brazil at the U17 and U20 levels, was clear.
“Sao Paulo is one of the biggest clubs in Brazil, [so] you have a player who is not afraid, has been under pressure before and has been through a nice system,” said Bezbatchenko. “A number of other Sao Paulo players have paved the way: Juninho, Leonardo [both originally with the LA Galaxy], and Artur in Columbus.”
“[The club] appreciates the way MLS and the clubs do business,” continued Bezbatchenko. “[Those loans] concluded with transfers. It wasn't complicated, sometimes loans can happen the quickest. The complications came from making sure we had salary cap space and working through the roster rules to get it done.”
“You talk to his agents, to him, it seemed like he was ready to have a different experience,” explained Bezbatchenko. “What really helped was the success that we've had, the fact we've been winning. They thought it would be a good experience to go to a club like Toronto FC, with the resources, the environment we've created, and the culture of success. He's an example of our recent winning ways [helping to] attract new talent.”
But even the man who brought him to town was 'pleasantly surprised' by how seamlessly Auro stepped into the lineup.
“International players do sometimes take time,” said Bezbatchenko. “Our scouts have done a really good job of finding players that fit what we're trying to do. Credit goes to Greg for his system because he has clearly defined roles. If the system makes sense, there are not a lot of questions that players have when they get into our team.”
“The other players help,” added Bezbatchenko. “I spoke to Gregory van der Wiel, first thing he said was, 'This is a great group of guys.' It doesn't matter if you're from Holland or Brazil, our guys welcome you with open arms. There are people who speak Portuguese here; between the ability to assimilate culturally, with your language, and with the game, we have a diverse enough roster that it happens almost naturally.”
His teammates have indeed taken to him quickly.
“I like him a lot,” said Victor Vazquez. “He reminds me of Dani Alves, this kind of player: shifty, trying to play football all the time, going deep, into the space. We love that.”
“With Seba, Jozy, myself, and Michael, we tried to put him in a good way, to have the ball, to make good crosses – like the one he made to Seba,” explained Vazquez. “He's also happy. He came to a nice club, an amazing club. When you are playing football, these kinds of players fit fast on the team and everybody is happy.”
Even if it was a little too cold in his debut.
“Yeah, [I told him it gets warmer],” laughed Vazquez. “He's not worried about it. You saw it in Colorado, he was happy even to play in -16 degrees. He showed amazing skills; he will show more and more and more.”