Tonight an almost full strength Union team listlessly beat the Nor'easters. John Hackworth's team spent most of the night passing the ball around the middle third, waiting for holes in the Ocean City back four to reveal themselves. It didn't work. The first goal was a result of a goalkeeping error and JackMc scoring with Cantona-level coolness. Brian Carroll scored the winner off a corner. Set pieces have been an unlikely strength of this team after struggling so much with them last season.
The complaint of many observers has been the lack of creativity in the final third. When was the last time the Union scored in the run of play? Cruz and Williams know how to make runs, but their crosses often leave a lot to be desired. Roger Torres is seen by fans and media alike as a remedy to the situation, and yet he didn't even make the 18 tonight. For a third round cup match.
Most people see this as a problem. Here are the facts as I see fit.
1. Roger Torres is the most creative midfielder we have.
Keon Daniel has been used as the fulcrum of this offense for most of this season. While Daniel is usually good at keeping possession, he's completely unable to make this incisive through ball in the middle or the long ball to a speeding Danny Cruz or Ray Gaddis on the wing. Now he's losing confidence, and he's struggling to make even the simplest passes in the middle of the field. In 10-20 minute appearances, Torres has shown he can make these passes and open up defenses. His assist to Sebastian Le Toux in 2010 versus the Houston Dynamo is still my favorite Union goal of all time. Just a pinpoint long ball to a Le Toux, who buried it beautifully with two touches.
2. Roger Torres is the most exciting player on the Union roster (when he's on his A game).
It's the reason he's such a fan favorite. It's why the Sons of Ben chant his name every time he enters a match. Like I said in the previous paragraph, he assisted on the best Union goal ever, and his goal against the hated Red Bulls in a 2011 1-0 victory might be the most popular goal amongst the DOOPing faithful. Every time he touches the ball, you always get the feeling that something magical can happen. All futbol fans love players like that.
3. Roger Torres can't start for the Union. Not right now, anyway.
For two reasons.
a) Where would he start? - You can't slot him at attacking midfielder. First of all, Hack would have to change formations and insert a diamond midfield, assuming the captain Brian Carroll stays on the field. Secondly, if I wanted an attacking midfielder on this roster to start, I'd want Le Toux, not Torres. He can't be on the left wing because your left side would consist of Torres and Ray Gaddis. John Hackworth would essentially be begging opponents to attack that side with relish every game. In fact, his terrible defense makes it impossible to play him at any position except striker and attacking midfielder. Better options lie at both positions. This brings us to Torres's big weakness.
b) He's too damn small - Five feet five inches. 140 pounds soaking wet. It's true players of Torres' size excel in soccer all the time. Maradona and Aaron Lennon (though, take away Aaron's speed and he's very crap) come to mind. But how many do it in MLS, and how many of those guys start regularly for their clubs? It's mainly because the physical nature of MLS takes its toll on guys like that. Torres has never been effective for more than 30 minutes in a match, because he's forced to do stuff like track back and tackle. His only start this season came in the Pumas friendly, and often he was bullied off the ball. His usual ingenuity passing the ball didn't show up, and his performance was disappointing. In fact, he's been left off the gameday 18 for a couple weeks now, thanks to....
4. Rookie Leo Fernandes has passed him in Hack's depth chart, and he's earned it.
The 6'1" central midfielder from Stony Brook (America East representaz!) played the entire Pumas friendly, and nearly 90 minutes tonight against Ocean City. In a shoddy game from the home team, Fernandes was one of the best players of the match. He was all over the field, making timely tackles and doing his part to create offense down the left flank. The lone highlight of the dull first half was when nutmeg'd an OC defender, beat another, and forced the keeper the deflect his shot wide. If Kleberson had to miss a match I wouldn't mind seeing Leo paired with Carroll central midfield again instead of Keon Daniel. He might not be as defensively sound as Daniel just yet, but he takes chances on offense that Keon is completely unwilling to take.
5. Roger Torres should still be in the 18 though. Just not as a starter.
Before Kader Keita arrives at PPL Park, let's assume our starting midfield at the moment is Cruz, Carroll, Kleberson, and Farfan/SLT. If we're down a goal, Hoppenot is always going to be a sub. I'd imagine that whoever doesn't start between SLT and Farfan becomes the second sub. If we hit the 80th minute and we're still losing, why not bring on Torres? Who else on the roster can inject life into the offense. The final sub in a losing situation should always be between Fernandes and Torres, and I think Torres's experience in those situations should give him a small edge this season.
6. Torres shouldn't be in the Union's future plans.
Unlike Ho-Sway Martinez or Lionard Pajoy, Torres isn't a bad player. He just isn't a fit on the Union at the moment. With the little depth we have, trading him isn't an option. Our best bet is to wait until the offseason and then offload him. It's a dilemma because even with his limited playing time, Torres is still one of the most popular players on the roster. The Union would be forced to find a midfielder on the transfer market who can provide that kind of excitement.
Now the question remains, is Torres doing all he can to return to the field? Will Hack ever take him out of the doghouse. I still think roster constraints thanks to the Gold Cup this summer will force a few appearances from everybody's favorite Colombian. But outside of that and a couple starts against Reading and Harrisburg, I think Roger's done here. Zach Pfeffer will likely be coming back from his loan spell at Hoffenheim reserves, and the Union will likely pick up another midfielder though the transfer market or the Superdraft (Steve Neumann plz).