Only three Toronto FC players have seen more MLS playing time than Auro this season.
The 22-year-old Brazilian newcomer has proved to be durable, adaptable and near indispensable.
“Auro’s been fantastic,” coach Greg Vanney said. “Just a warrior. He shows up every single day. Loves to play soccer, gives us everything he has.”
Listed at 5-foot-6 and 136 pounds, the compact Brazilian – whose full name is Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior – can play fullback, wingback or midfielder. He has seen action in 11 of Toronto’s 14 league games so far, with nine starts.
The former Brazilian under-17 and under-20 international has an engine that never quits.
His 870 minutes, heading into Toronto’s home game against D.C. United on Wednesday night, are surpassed only by captain Michael Bradley (990), midfielder Jonathan Osorio (902) and Gregory van der Wiel (900).
Wednesday’s game will be the first for Toronto on the new grass surface at BMO Field.
Van der Wiel, another new face this season, was expected to slot into the right fullback position left open by the departure of free agent Steven Beitashour for Los Angeles FC. But TFC’s rash of defensive injuries has forced Vanney to deploy the Dutch international all across the backline, with Auro often looking after the right flank.
The return of Liechtenstein wingback Nico Hasler from injury – he made his first start in more than a month last Friday in a 2-0 win in Philadelphia – gives Vanney some more options at wingback.
Off the field, Auro has little grasp of English. But he comes across as a happy-go-lucky sort whose smile speaks volumes.
“It’s fantastic to get to know this country and this city,” he said though goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell, an American who played in Portugal and is married to a Brazilian.
“The city is very beautiful and it’s safe,” Auro added.
The weather has been a revelation, however. Auro all but cringes when asked about the CONCACAF Champions League game on Feb. 25 when he made his TFC debut in frigid conditions in Colorado.
“It was fantastic day, but a day I’ll never forget in my life,” he said.
It was so cold that beer lines literally froze at the concession stands, according to reports.
Auro grew up about three hours outside of Sao Paulo, a sprawling city of more than 12 million that is Brazil’s financial centre. The son of a handyman, he moved to the big city at the age of 13 to join Sao Paulo FC’s academy with recent loan stints with Clube Atletico Linense and America Futebol Clube.
Back home, his family and friends calls him Junior or Juninho (Little Junior). His dad, who is also named Auro, opts for ‘preto’ (black) as a term of endearment because of his tan.
Toronto FC has not dipped that often into the Brazilian market, with former striker Gilberto a notable example. But general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said club scouts, with an eye to Brazil’s rich talent at fullback, started watching games there closely in 2016.
They identified Auro as someone to watch in late 2016 and began tracking and researching him before acquiring him on loan from Sao Paulo with an option to buy.
Auro reached out to Gilberto and Columbus Crew midfielder Artur, another former Sao Paulo player, before coming to Toronto.
Auro said he needed to find a club that would give him playing time and wanted to try a new challenge. While he had other opportunities in Brazil, Toronto seemed a good fit.
“It’s a good league. It’s growing rapidly,” he said.
The young Brazilian says he doesn’t really have a favourite position.
“I don’t care as long as I’m playing,” he said. “I just want to play every week.”
Push him further and he offers up right fullback or wingback, where he is playing these days.
Auro, who came to Canada with his girlfriend, doesn’t really need English to tell his story. His tattoos tell the tale, especially the sleeve on his right arm.
On his right bicep, a stylized design spells out faith – one of several religious designs. The names of his mother and father are marked in ink, along with his date of birth. Love and peace are also spelled out. So is the date he met his girlfriend.
He plans to have the other arm done – back in Brazil, because tattoos are expensive here.
A scar on his left knee is a reminder of a patella operation, as are the tattooed dates on his leg of when he went under the knife and when he returned to training. Above the knee are the words “Never Stop Fighting.”