By NEIL DAVIDSON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Monday, October 15, 2018
TORONTO -- Together they rank as Canada's top soccer players currently plying their trade in North America.
And Lucas Cavallini and Jonathan Osorio go way back.
"We've been buddies since Day 1, since we were 12 years old playing together," said Cavallini, a forward with Mexico's Puebla FC.
"He's a very very good friend of mine," added Osorio, a midfielder having a career year with Toronto FC.
Their games extended off the field as youngsters. Cavallini's father made a soccer pitch of sorts in the family basement in Mississauga, with Lucas and Osorio often pairing up against their younger brothers.
Years later, Cavallini, 25, and Osorio, 26, remain fast friends and roommates while on national team duty. Both are in camp north of Toronto preparing for Canada's CONCACAF Nations League qualifying game Tuesday against Dominica at BMO Field.
After playing local club soccer together, the two started their pro careers as teenagers in South America where they climbed the ladder in hard-scrabble junior ranks in Uruguay.
Both have South American bloodlines.
Cavallini's father is originally from Argentina while Osorio's parents were born in Colombia.
Cavallini and Osorio grew up playing for the Clarkson Soccer club in Mississauga.
Their team toured Uruguay, a trip that eventually led to a Club Nacional tryout offer and the two headed to South America.
While they spoke the language, it wasn't easy. They lived in dormitory-style accommodations with Uruguayan juniors who initially saw them as foreign intruders looking to take their jobs.
"It didn't really matter to us because we knew we had to sacrifice a lot to become professional soccer players, especially starting to play in Uruguay, in South America, which is one of the best development [soccer regions] in all of the world I think," Cavallini said. "It was something we wanted so the lifestyle didn't really bother me."
Cavallini is a prototypical No. 9 who leads Puebla with five goals in 12 games this season. A danger-man in the penalty box, his nickname is El Tanque (the Tank).
Osorio is a technically gifted midfielder who has shown a nose for goal this season with 16 goals in all competitions. He won the Golden Boot as top scorer and was named to the tournament all-star team in this year's CONCACAF Champions League.
"He's a really interesting player," Cavallini said. "You don't really get players like that in Canada - really technical. I guess his grassroots being Colombian really help."
"Lucas is so good," Osorio said. "He's a typical South American No. 9 who works his butt off. He gives you that work on the defensive part as well, which I think is huge."
"I'm a little bit biased, but you can ask any other guy [on the team]. He's a great player," he added.
Osorio spent two years in Uruguay, starting in the under-19 ranks before making his way into the reserves before deciding to return home at the end of 2011. That led to an invitation from the TFC academy in September, 2012.
Former Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen liked what he saw of Osorio at training camp in 2013 and the young midfielder went on to see action in 28 league games that year.
Osorio marked his 200th game in all competitions with TFC on Aug. 15 in Toronto's 5-2 second-leg win (7-4 on aggregate) over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final. Osorio was awarded the George Gross Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP.
Cavallini stayed in Uruguay, loaned to Juventud and then Fenix in a deal that was eventually made permanent. He transferred to Penarol, a Nacional rival, before moving to Puebla.
For Osorio, his friend's career path has somehow gone under the radar.
"These are the biggest clubs in South America and they don't get talked about as much as - I don't want to say what other clubs - but it's unbelievable," Osorio said incredulously.
Nacional's most famous product is FC Barcelona star forward Luis Suarez, who joined the academy in 2000 and made his first-team debut at 18 in the 2005-06 season before leaving for Europe.
The club has named a pitch at its Montevideo training ground after the Uruguayan star.
Both Canadians have been rewarded with new contracts this year. Cavallini signed a four-year deal in June after his Puebla loan move was made permanent while Osorio inked a new long-term deal in August that makes him "one of the highest-paid Canadian players in the world," according to Toronto president Bill Manning.
Osorio has won 21 caps for Canada compared with eight for Cavallini, who took a three-year break from international duties after coming on as a substitute in Canada's crushing 8-1 World Cup qualifying loss in Honduras in October, 2012.
Cavallini, who married a Uruguayan and has a young son and daughter, will be playing for Canada in Toronto for the first time.
There will be plenty of family and friends watching on Tuesday.
"I could probably fill half the stadium ... it's going to be awesome," he said with a laugh.
For Canada coach John Herdman, the two players arrive battle-hardened and full of confidence.
"You know that if someone's starting regularly, these people know somebody trusts them." he said. "And if someone trusts you, you develop that self-trust as well."
Canada is ranked 79th in the world while Dominica is No. 177.
The Canadians thumped the No. 201 U.S.
Virgin Islands 8-0 in their CONCACAF Nations League debut last month while Dominica tied No. 153 Suriname 0-0.
It marked the Canadian men's biggest win, surpassing a 7-0 victory in St. Lucia in October, 2011.
Lucas Cavallini, seen in a match against Club America, leads Puebla with five goals in 12 games this season.
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