TORONTO - Roger Torres can hear you.
He knows that the fans chant his name when he comes out of the tunnel before games, and when he starts warming up with the substitutes in front of the River End.
I’ve said before and will say again: no player in Union history has won the kind of admiration from fans that Torres has. Not even Sébastien Le Toux or Danny Califf.
But Torres also knows what we all know: he’s barely gotten to play this year. Beyond exhibition games, the 21-year-old’s only appearance of the season was a 10-minute cameo against Sporting Kansas City in the season opener. He didn’t even play in the U.S. Open Cup game against Ocean City.
Many times this year, he has been named among the substitutes, but hasn’t seen the field. On a few occasions, he hasn’t even made the 18-player game day squad.
That was the case again on Saturday, although the circumstances were a bit unique. Union assistant coach Jim Curtin was away for the weekend, as his brother Jeff (who also played in MLS for a few years) was getting married. So there was an extra seat on the plane, and Union manager John Hackworth gave it to Torres.
I’m told that Hackworth didn’t make the decision to have Torres be the odd man out until after the team arrived in Toronto. It seemed an odd circumstance, but it’s also my understanding that the two have had plenty of communication about Torres’ situation, and what it will take for him to get back on the field.
We know that Torres has been with the Union for longer than almost anyone else on the roster. Kléberson (understandably, given his stature), Keon Daniel and rookie Leo Fernandes are all ahead of Torres in the depth chart.
Why doesn’t the Colombian play? It seems pretty clear: his defense isn’t that great, and John Hackworth puts a high value on that side of the ball. Just about everyone knows both of those things.
Now, you could argue that when you have a playmaker of Torres’ ability, you can put him in front of an all-defense holding midfielder and the two will balance out. You could also argue that Torres’ ability to keep possession of the ball is a form of defense in and of itself.
But Hackworth’s tactical sense is such that he doesn’t want a defensive liability in the center of his midfield. You can argue about that as much as you want. I’d say that Hackworth gets some benefit of the doubt as long as the Union hold on to a playoff spot, but that’s just me.
And I’d also say that Hackworth isn’t blind to either the controversy or the situation as a whole. He knows that he needs a midfield that can possess the ball better, and he knows what Torres can do.
I’ve tried for the last few games to seek out Torres in the Union’s locker room to talk to him about his lack of playing time. On Saturday, I finally got a hold of him. Here’s my exclusive interview. It was conducted entirely in English - Torres had an interpreter nearby, but chose not to use him.
Is it at all frustrating to be watching and not playing?
Kind of. It is difficult, it is frustrating. But the only thing that I can do is practice hard, work hard and wait for the opportunity when the coach decides to put me in the 18 or the 11. I want to be ready for that opportunity.
Does John Hackworth talk to you a lot about it?
Sometimes we talk, a coach to a player. Normal times - sometimes in practice, but nothing crazy.
What sense do you have of what you can do to get back to playing, or is it not so much in your control?
That’s difficult to say. Sometimes I feel so bad when I see the team playing and maybe they don’t get the ball, and I look at the game and think I can go in there and help a little bit. It’s normal - for a professional player, the thing that we want to do is play.
But I don’t decide when I get to play or if I get to be in the 11 or the 18. The only thing I can do is just wait. It’s hard, but I’m a professional and I just try to do the best I can in practice, to show the coach that I can be there.
The fans still chant your name and cheer for you whenever they see you. Do you want to stay in Philadelphia?
I love Philadelphia. I love this team - this team was my first team in this league. I really love it. I don’t want to go to another team, I just want to wait for my opportunity.
And I appreciate all the fans who are there all the time supporting me, and saying my name. That’s the thing that makes me think, and not get that frustrated that badly. Just thinking that they believe in me, that gives me the confidence that when I go practice, I believe in me too.
Like I said, the thing that I can do is just wait. When the coach decides to put me in, I’ve got to do what I always do - the best thing for our team, to help our team get a win. That’s the point.