Photo: Earl Gardner
A few thoughts on Philadelphia Union and MLS. Ready? Go.
Roger Torres says farewell(?)
Roger Torres has confirmed that his contract is up at season’s end. That’s news. It means the Union are free of his contract if they want to be.
After a season spent stapled to the bench despite the Union’s midfield problems, why would the 22-year-old fan favorite want to return to the Union? Why would the Union bring him back?
Actually, there are a number of reasons why he could come back.
- Lack of options: After four years abroad and little to show for it, Torres could have trouble finding a club elsewhere.
- He likes Philadelphia: Who wouldn’t? (Besides Robert Pires.) And Philadelphia fans really like him.
- Fresh contract: He would have a new contract. That could mean a blank slate. No incentives, no high salary, no strings attached. Just play.
- John Hackworth recognizes his talent. After all, when Hackworth needed offensive spark the last two games, when he had no choice but to go for wins, who did he turn to? Roger Torres.
Of course, those are all speculative “what if” tenets. Here are some slightly more fact-based tenets on why he probably won’t return.
- Playing time: Torres played just 68 minutes this season despite an excellent preseason and staying healthy all year. That’s no way to progress a soccer career.
- Diego Gutierrez: Torres is the last — and first — Diego Gutierrez signing still with the team. Gutierrez was the agent for Torres when the midfielder joined the club as a teenager. Gutierrez later became the team’s scouting director and was fired in Hackworth’s first significant off-field move as Union manager. Hackworth has erased Gutierrez’s fingerprints on the club, and Torres is all that’s left. How much of a factor is this? It might be the biggest.
- Pay cut: Torres would almost certainly have to take a pay cut to remain with Philadelphia — or perhaps even to stay in MLS. There is no way the Union would bring him back at his current salary of $121,958. Then again, MLS clubs pay their players on time, which is more than you can say for too many clubs in Argentina, Colombia and other Latin American countries.
- Wasted international player slot: Why spend an international roster spot on a benchwarmer? Other teams have traded draft picks, players or allocation money for these roster positions, so they have value.
- Better options: America de Cali won’t have forgotten Torres, would they? He is just 22 and has plenty of talent.
In the end, Torres looks unlikely to return. Another Union original will bite the dust, leaving only Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux remaining from that inaugural 2010 team.
That’s a shame. Yes, Torres has some holes in his game. He’s too small, he lacks speed, and he can make some poor decisions. But we’ve seen so many pretty plays from him that you have to wonder how much more he might have progressed had he gotten regular minutes. How would he fare on a team that plays a possession game?
And then there is the fact that fans really love watching him play. That’s organic. It happened the old-fashioned way: He earned it.
When I saw the American football lines, I turned off the Kansas City-New England game. I did the same with the Seattle-Portland game.
Then I changed my mind, because well, how could you miss the best rivalry in American soccer playing out in the playoffs?
A guy would pass a ball past the 30-yard-line, and Chris Berman would echo in my head saying “rumbling, stumbling, down to the 28-yard line.” A dribble into the attacking zone would prompt me to instinctively think, “Touchdown!” I tried to pick out the penalty area and eventually spied a comparatively innocuous yellow box denoting the 18-yard mark. Players would keep playing when they had gone well out of bounds, only … they weren’t out of bounds, because this wasn’t the NFL.
Yep, this is American soccer — still.
MLS could have easily avoided the ridiculous spectacle of televised playoff soccer featuring American football lines marring the field.
All the league had to do was swap dates for each leg of the playoff matches. Had Saturday night’s Portland-Seattle match been in Portland and the second leg in Seattle, for example, there would have been no conflicts with an NFL game on Sunday.
Now, one might say that undoes homefield advantage, under the premise that the team hosting the second leg has the advantage. But is that really an advantage? If so, it’s not much. Some might say it’s an advantage to know going into the second leg what you have to do at home to win. Others might say they’d rather go into the second leg with momentum from being up in the first. To me, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.
The NFL conflict should have been a prime consideration for league officials, and I don’t say that because I’m a soccer purist. Rather, I come from the opposite perspective, as someone who lived and breathed American football for the first half of my life before picking up soccer in the second half. When your sporting instincts are bred in American football, it makes for a disorienting spectacle to place a soccer game in that context.
Fans shouldn’t be watching the playoff showcase and thinking it’s ridiculous. This was avoidable.
A rivalry to rival the best
To an outsider, the Portland-Seattle rivalry may be the best thing going in MLS Soccer and one of the best rivalries in American sports.
No, it’s not as storied as some. It’s not as nasty.
But wow, what a unique spectacle, from the tifos to the chainsaws. There simply is nothing quite like it in American and Canadian sports. Put this rivalry up there with Eagles-Giants, Auburn-Alabama, Packers-Vikings, Canadiens-Maple Leafs, and the rest of the best.
The shame is that Wednesday’s second leg doesn’t start till 11 p.m. EST, or 8 p.m. on the west coast. Come on, MLS. They couldn’t start that game an hour earlier? Really? It could be the season’s best match, but how many east coasters who have to work the next morning will actually stay up till 1 a.m. to watch the entire game?
(I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t.)