TORONTO – Offseason additions usually require filling positions of need, but stocking up on top footballers is always a good philosophy to follow, regardless of the depth chart.
That is exactly what Toronto FC have gotten in Auro Junior, who joined the club back in February on loan from Sao Paulo FC.
“When we brought him, we knew he was a good soccer player,” said Greg Vanney after training on Wednesday. “Looking at his pedigree, the Brazilian U-20's: you have to be a good player to get in there for sure. Being at a big club like Sao Paulo, he has the feel for what it's like to be in a big environment. Those two things I saw immediately.”
“The very first time he touched the field for us in a game, he was just comfortable. And he's been that every day since,” continued Vanney. “He's very confident in who he is as a player, what he is good at, confident in his technique and vision. And he's a versatile player: can play in a back four, in a 3-5-2... he can probably play in midfield if we decided to put him there. I've even seen him at Sao Paulo play as a defensive midfielder. [He's] way more confident and secure in what he does than a lot of 22-year-olds.”
Days after coming to Toronto, Auro made his club debut in the Concacaf Champions League, in frigid conditions away to the Colorado Rapids, earning rave reviews in the process. Since then, he has not put a foot wrong, appearing in eight league matches and every single Concacaf match as TFC reached the final of the continental competition.
A fast learner and a workhorse when Toronto needed him most.
“He's integrated quickly and been a big asset for us,” said Vanney. “He's played an incredible amount. Like Michael [Bradley], like [Jonathan] Osorio, who continuously put it out there every single game, every single training session. There is a not a day that goes by where these guys aren't continuing to give us the work they do. Auro has been one of those guys we've been depending upon along this stretch.”
Said Osorio: “He's been great. His ability is obvious, got that Brazilian in him, that skill. He's a very good player, very smart player.”
“A huge part for us is that he's a good professional. He comes in to work, loves to train, and he's stayed healthy when we need him to stay healthy. He's been huge,” continued Osorio. “He's given us more offensively than we had before [on the right]. Every year you need something different: your team cannot stay the same otherwise teams figure you out.”
Making the move to North America from his native Brazil at such a young age, was a major decision, both in terms of career and life.
“In the beginning, it's a different rhythm,” said Auro, through his translator, TFC goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell, earlier this month. “[MLS is] very physical, a lot of contact.”
“[But] I came here to show my football and win a spot in the side,” continued Auro, who picked up his first MLS assist on Friday, setting up Ryan Telfer's late game-winner by beating his defender to get in a cross to the back-post. “I'm trying to adapt as fast as possible; show my value.”
Though, the Brazilian does admit the weather in those early weeks was difficult.
“Very cold, at the beginning. Very difficult,” admitted Auro. “In Brazil, it is very hot. Coming here minus-5, minus-10 degrees... I knew it was going to be that way. The city is fantastic, the country is beautiful, now it's getting even better because it's becoming hot.”
A little sunshine having warmed the bones, the move has been everything he had heard it would be. Before deciding to take the plunge, Auro spoke to a former teammate at Sao Paulo, Gilberto, who made the move to Toronto at the end of 2013.
“He said only good things about the country, the city, the team,” relayed Auro. “He said, 'No problem, you can go there with your eyes closed.' The football is getting bigger and bigger. I spoke with Artur of Columbus, he said, 'the league is very good, the structure is very good.' What they told me is what I'm seeing myself.”
Though there is a bit of a language barrier, Auro has settled in nicely.
“He's fluent in Spanish as well,” noted Vanney. “His English is a work in progress, as is all of ours. He's getting there.”
That fluency helps.
“My Portuguese is alright,” smiled Osorio. “I think my Brazilian Portuguese is good; I don't think my Portuguese Portuguese is great.”
“His English is not great, but he tries to communicate with everybody, which I like,” added Osorio. “He'll learn. The more he talks to people the more he'll learn. He's not going to learn with me because he talks in Portuguese with me and I speak in Spanish to him.”
Regardless, on the field, the sport is the only language one needs.
“He understands,” said Vanney. “He's a good soccer mind, so you don't have to explain things too many times, he sees it as well. He's a cerebral player; a lot of [details] he picks up on quickly.”
That has translated well.
Auro wants TFC to apply the lessons learned in the Champions League as they scrap and claw their way up the MLS standings. In Concacaf, it was “kill or be killed”.
“We need to use that mentality, win at all cost, in the league,” said Auro. “Use that going forward.”