Jonathan Osorio hopes his 34th birthday is a special one, marked by the beginning of a World Cup played partially on Canadian soil.
And he does not intend to be watching it from the stands.
“I wouldn’t be old, I would just be more wise,” joked the Toronto FC midfielder, who turned 26 Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the soccer associations in Canada, Mexico and the United States will find out if their joint bid — which TFC’s BMO Field is likely to be a part of — to host the World Cup in 2026 has been successful. Osorio has not seen the Canadians qualify for a finals in his lifetime and said representing his nation himself on that stage would be “bigger than even a dream”.
“It would be more of a motivation to keep myself healthy throughout my career, so when that time comes my body is in the best shape possible to give myself a chance to participate,” he added.
Some of Osorio’s TFC teammates have more direct experience of what hosting a World Cup can mean to a country’s soccer culture. Club captain Michael Bradley, for example, has played in two — in 2010 and 2014 — and remembers watching Italy face Norway and Bulgaria beat Mexico at the old Giants Stadium when the show came to the U.S. in 1994.
“It would be very important,” Bradley said ahead of Wednesday’s MLS game against D.C. United. “The power of a World Cup is incredible, in terms of the energy, the passion and the enthusiasm that comes with it. Obviously that’s all magnified so much more if you’re able to host it.
“Being around the trainings of a few different teams — as a young guy, to be able to see all of that up close and feel a part of it was incredible. I think 27 years later, if the United States, Canada and Mexico can win this bid to host the World Cup, I think in terms of continuing to grow the game, reaching out to all different types of people, it goes a long way. But having said that, if things shake out a certain way and we don’t get it, then it’s not stopping the game from growing, that’s for sure. The growth that has been made and the things that are going on on a daily basis on the most basic levels continue to set the game up for a really big future in all three countries.”
Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who was headed to the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan with the U.S. before suffering an injury in a friendly, believes playing on home turf would be an “extraordinary” moment for Canada in particular.
“I think it’s huge,” Vanney reflected. “I don’t think it’s vital, because I think the game is taking steps forward no matter what — we see the momentum and the progress of the sport in North America. That’s not going to be deterred whether we get it or don’t get it. But I think it’s an incredible shot in the arm and another boost for everything that’s been going on in North America.
“I think Canadian soccer especially, now, has a real opportunity to get some of the benefits of being a host country, which is money in the bank in some ways, the exposure to these big games that the World Cup brings, the quality of those games. The impact of that can’t ever really be understated. The U.S. obviously built off of that in 1994 and for Canada to be able to build off of that, if awarded, would be huge.”
Osorio, who has familial roots in Colombia, picked out James Rodriguez’s spectacular goal against Uruguay in 2014 as his favourite World Cup memory. Vanney went back to 1986, and Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ for Argentina against England.
“I was a huge Maradona fan and I tried to model some of my game around him,” Vanney, who was 12 at the time, recalled. “I became a defender, so that didn’t work.”