(Photo: Earl Gardner)
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite players of 2011.
Raving about Roger Torres is as natural as dooping for Union fans. Ever since he made his first chicken-armed run onto the pitch, the teenager has been an electric presence.
But it is one thing to create electricity and quite another to control it.
In 2011, Roger Torres grew from a player with skill into a skilled playmaker. The Hollywood passes that were more aimless than creative took a back seat to ball movement, angles and confident thrusts through the middle. For those of us who doubted him in 2010, this past year has been revelatory.
He still makes mistakes, but it seems like he knows what a mistake is now, and he learns from them. Torres spent most of the year in a depth chart free fall, only to emerge from the rubble of the Union’s worst half of the season (against New England) with ten teammates and an entire stadium on his shoulders. Sebastien Le Toux may have been the emotional leader that day, but the inspiration was the miniature midfielder who scored the first Union goal and urged his teammates forward as if blind to all outcomes but success.
Oh the memories
It was truly a season of highlights for Torres’ fans, but the player suffered prolonged benchings and perpetual fringe status. Even after scoring with his first touch against the Red Bulls on April, 9 Torres did not make the starting lineup until the April 30 against San Jose. Then it was back to the bench for two more games, only to make the first eleven against Dallas and take the heat for the team’s deflating loss. Nine of the starters in Dallas were back on the pitch a week later against Chicago. Only Torres and Danny Mwanga (injured) lost their place. Torres would not play more than 27 minutes in a game again until July 29. Entering at halftime with his team down two goals at home, Torres was a force, even scoring after the Union went down a man.
What was different in 2011?
Purpose. Torres had it all season. Even when he was slow to read the game, he never questioned his role in it. Giving Torres a position was useless. His position was on the ball, and his game was motion. At his best, he was finding space, playing the ball with a touch or two and moving it again. Mixing short wall balls in with his trademark chipped passes, the Colombian could mold the doughy, shapeless Union offense into something that vaguely resembled potency. And, along with Michael Farfan, Torres brilliantly recognized that when Casa Ruiz was vacated, there was space to be taken and space opened up in the middle of the pitch.
So yes, Roger Torres vastly expanded his bag of tricks this year. So why wasn’t he a sure-fire starter?
New guys? Who needs ‘em!
Okay, aside from the fact that he thinks defensive shape is a myth that John Hackworth made up to give him nightmares, why wasn’t Roger Torres a starter?
It’s impossible to know what the technical team tells young players, but if you’re a fan of Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney or Roger Torres, it probably seems like the Union coaching staff has put on a master class in passive aggression these past two years. It seems like the more praise a young player gets, the more likely it is that a veteran will be brought in to play his position. Last season, Torres watched Justin Mapp and Eduardo Coudet arrive late and gobble up his minutes. This year it was Veljko Paunovic and Freddy Adu. While Mwanga, Okugo and McInerney spent much of the year treading water, Roger Torres grabbed his opportunities. The fans responded, elevating the midfielder to near-Bieber status when he entered a match.
The enduring legacy of Roger Torres’ second campaign is that he nearly always made a mark. In his only extended run in the first team, Torres helped the Union get its groove back after the dog days of summer nearly knocked the team out of playoff contention. Of course, he quickly found himself back on the bench.
Honestly, it’s bleak. With Keon Daniel returning and Freddy Adu having nowhere to go but up, Torres may again find only thirty minutes on most nights. This may prove to be a blessing in disguise, however, as the young playmaker has more developing to do before he can be counted on to steer the ship night after night. A critic could point to Torres’ strong season as a function of his time on the pitch: Often arriving after the 60th minute, Torres was tasked with creating opportunities at any cost. With the opposition sitting back, time was in abundance and Torres often took it. This pattern may very well continue. As yet, there is little evidence that Torres can thrive against high pressure. With many MLS teams employing athletic and clumsy midfielders, Torres still has a lot to prove before he can be counted on to take the reins of the team’s offense.
Then again, those reins have been handed to other players with much higher profiles: First Fred and now Freddy Adu. Come to think of it, perhaps the best thing Roger Torres can do for his Union career is change his name.
Fredger Torres: Starting alongside Brian Carroll in 2012.