Featured image: Paul Rudderow
When Freddy Adu joined the Union, Roger Torres must have wondered if he would get relegated to starring in reserve matches for the rest of the season. Fortunately, the Union’s most improved young player has found the minutes plentiful in recent weeks and has played some of the best soccer of his Union career.
Freddy Adu, on the other hand, has yet to settle in.
Paired together against New England, Torres and Adu played like they were unaware the other was on the pitch. Both players checked into similar spaces and ended up as passive observers until New England sat back and offered acres of space to the playmaking duo in the second half.
After they both notched a goal against the Revs, the coaching staff gave them a second chance when Portland came to town. Leaving the second forty-five against New England aside, the Union played their best soccer in quite some time against the Timbers. Did Torres and Adu have anything to do with that?
OPTA only credited the Union with three shots on goal against Portland, all of them by Danny Mwanga. The first shot on net came in the second minute. It was a tame, deflected effort that Troy Perkins handled easily. In the image below, Mwanga prepares to shoot while Freddy Adu drifts towards the box and Le Toux and Paunovic charge in from the right. Roger Torres is behind Mwanga on the right of the screen.
Good interplay between Adu and Michael Farfan created this opportunity, and it was one of many instances where Adu’s instinctual decisions were far better than his over-thought dribble-heavy ones. This scenario is representative of how Adu and Torres would find themselves most of the night. While Adu pushed forward and sought to fill the theoretical space (more on that later) between the midfield and forward lines, Torres remained deeper, taking balls from Brian Carroll and looking over the top or playing short to Sheanon Williams, Adu and Paunovic.
The issue with this setup is, with Adu pushing high and central, Torres sitting in and Brian Carroll falling back even deeper, the Union have very little width. Sebastien Le Toux is no real winger. His goal is to get into the box as fast as he can once the Union cross the halfway line.
All of this adds up to either a lot of vertical balls or our next example.
Here, Freddy Adu has the ball just outside of the final third as
Tom Cruise, Iceman and Goose Torres, Mwanga and Le Toux sprint towards the box in formation. Once again, the Union have poor spacing and are relying on their outside backs for width. But without Torres in support, there is nowhere for Adu to go but forward. The basic axiom of soccer—create triangles—is impossible here. Where is Adu’s outlet, aside from straight backwards to Brian Carroll?
This has been a persistent problem for the Union this season: When they get the ball, it’s like they all have a Le Toux mindset. Forward, we go! Now, there is no problem if Le Toux wants to look for that ball over the top. But everyone?
With Adu and Torres on the pitch, the Union have the skill in midfield to hold possession and move the defense around, creating the lanes that allow for moments like this:
Here we see Roger Torres preparing to play a gorgeous lob into the path of Sebastien Le Toux. Seba would take it on his chest and pull it wide, but it was quite the opportunity.
Once again, Torres is a bit deeper than Adu in a distributive role. Danny Mwanga has pulled out wide after making a run around Sheanon Williams. Mwanga’s move to the wing leaves him too far from goal, but if nobody else is going to do it…
Stepping into the space Mwanga leaves behind, Paunovic wants a ball in to feet. Off-screen, Le Toux is crashing the box through the gap left by the movement of the strikers. And Freddy Adu should follow Le Toux and pick up any loose ends.
To conclude, the Adu-Torres partnership has potential but it requires more width. Adu picked out Michael Farfan once, but in general the duo in the middle found few outlets that weren’t straight ahead. Spreading the ball wide will allow Torres to check in and receive the ball without a defense already set up in front of him. Adu can find pockets in front of Torres and, voila, an offense with options!