HE MAY BE diminutive, but Union midfielder Roger Torres is walking tall these days.
Torres stands 5-7 and on a rainy day weighs in at a little less than 140 pounds. But he has been a game-changer off the bench for the Union, a role manager Peter Nowak claims is perfect at this stage of his development.
"We really tried to learn from our mistakes from last year when it comes to Roger," Nowak said Wednesday during his weekly news conference. "Last year if you recall, he started six, seven games for us, and it really took a toll on him, so we had to change our approach. We needed to work on him so that he wasn't frustrated. I think this year has helped improve his confidence immensely. Every time he's come into the game for us, he's given us a boost, whether as a starter or now as a sub. His level of confidence now is bigger and better."
It's evident every time Torres touches the ball. The 19-year-old on loan from Colombian first division club America de Cali uses deft passing and great vision to find teammates, as opposed to last year, when he had the penchant for trying to take on the opposition. Torres acknowledged he had to change his game plan to the way soccer is played in MLS, so that he not only would be lethal in the midfield but also spare his young, still-maturing frame.
"When I come on now, the [opposition] is a little bit tired which is good for me," said Torres, who needed only minimal help from a translator, because his English has improved tremendously since the offseason. "I get more space, which makes the game easier for me, because I have more time to put [the] ball to my teammates. In Colombia, the game is more tactics, and it's easier, because you have more space. Here, the game is very intense and focused and much more physical. I know I am not very strong, so to be [effective]. I need to make the most out of the time I get on the ball."
Torres has logged 1,032 minutes in two MLS seasons and has six assists and last weekend's game-winning goal to show for it. Statistically, it might look as if the club is getting its money's worth out of the Torres' six-figure payday, but it's not all about getting on the stat sheet.
"He just brings that spark you need, especially late in the game," said defender Danny Califf. "Roger is so quick and always looks for the killer pass, he keeps defenses on their toes. That to us is more important than padding stats."
"I think every player plays to start and score goals, no?" Torres said. "I am working for that, but I am better coming in when the team needs me, and that is good. One day, I can get the start, but I just want to be ready when the team needs me."
And when people doubt him because of his size?
"I don't think [size] really matters much," Torres said. "Because look at Lionel Messi [the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year], [Barcelona midfielder Andres] Iniesta and [Barcelona teammate] Xavi."
Noting that all, like Torres, are 5-7, he continued, "They are some of the best players in the world and they are small, so I never think that my size is a problem. But I work I a lot and I think when I play well it gives me the confidence so I know I am good as everybody on the field."
Hell, if not better.
Jeff Parke is sorry, but if he hasn't returned your call, text or tweet, he probably can't get you tickets to tomorrow's Union-Sounders game at PPL Park.
The Daily News caught up with the Abington native, who spoke out on mooches, Seattle, soccer and his 10-game match ban in 2008 for performance-enhancing drugs, which remains the longest suspension in MLS history.
Q: How excited are you for this trip?
A: It's great to be back home, but it's amazing all the people who come out of the woodwork; people you haven't talked to in a while that hit you up for tickets. You wish you could accommodate everyone, but it's just not possible.
Q: How much different is Seattle from anywhere else you've played?
A: I feel lucky to be a part of such a good solid organization because I never had that. The turnover [during his 5-year stint] in New York was ridiculous; you go from that to being on one of the best clubs in league. I was having contract issues with the league [in 2009 which led to a year stay with Vancouver] and at the time, you don't see the big picture, you are just looking at the contract, but when you start playing and getting involved with the organization, you realize how lucky you really are.
Q: How much are you still reminded of the PEDs scandal that you and former RBNY goalkeeper Jon Conway were involved in?
A: Oh I still get questions, and I think it's always gonna be there. Until you can take stuff off the Internet, people are always going to Google you and that'll be the first thing that comes up. But I can't let that bother me. I just think if you perform well and you are consistent at what you do, then the stupid things you've done are an afterthought.
Q: Did you always want to be a pro soccer player?
A: In the back of my mind I did, but it wasn't until my junior year [at Drexel] did I realize I could play at this level. I stopped partying and doing stupid [stuff] and really pushed myself. I work hard every day; it's the only way. Even though soccer is fun, it's still a business. If you aren't working hard every day, then some young guy is coming in to take your place - and that's not going to happen to me without a fight.
ODDS AND ENDLINES
The April 23 road match against Real Salt Lake has been pushed to Saturday, Sept. 3, to accommodate RSL's preparation for the CONCACAF champions league final. A win for RSL would qualify it for the FIFA Club World Club in December . . . Next weekend is the Union's portion of Sueno MLS, the league's nationally televised local talent search. It will be held at YSC Sports in Wayne (April 23-24) . . . Along with Jeff Parke, former local college standout midfielder-forward Michael Seamon (Villanova) plays for Seattle.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Seattle Sounders FC (1-2-2, 5 points) at Union (3-1-0 6 points)
When: Tomorrow, 4 o'clock
Where: PPL Park, Chester
TV: Comcast Network
On the web: Streaming video at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: Seattle's starting lineup could include Fredy Montero, as the Sounders' star striker is rapidly recovering from wrist surgery. Montero took part in full practice sessions Wednesday and yesterday and will travel with the team . . . Seattle is looking to avenge a 3-1 loss last June, in what was the Union's official home opener at PPL Park . . . Defender Danny Califf described the pairing as a "bit of a rivalry," considering Seattle, the 2009 Major League Soccer expansion side, welcomed the Union, a 2010 expansion, with a 2-0 loss at Qwest Field to open the MLS season last March . . . Midfielder Brian Carroll is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury - similar to the one that sidelined Justin Mapp for 3 weeks. Expect Amobi Okugo to fill the gap yet again. Okugo subbed in for Carroll in last weekend's 1-0 win over Red Bull New York.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Out for the Union: Gabriel Farfan, MF (right toe dislocation); Questionable: Brian Carroll, MF (right hamstring strain); Probable: Carlos Ruiz, FW (left hamstring strain)
Questionable for the Sounders: Fredy Montero, FW (right wrist fracture)
BY THE NUMBERS
3: The number of games the Union have won this season, as well as its number of total goals in MLS play.
0.25: Faryd Mondragon's goals against average after three games this season.
2.00: Former goalkeeper Chris Seitz' GAA after three games last season.
DID YOU KNOW
That last Saturday's postgame footage on Philly.com was shot by Union midfielder Sebastien Le Toux? When asked about doubling as a cameraman after playing 90 minutes against the Red Bulls, Le Toux said: "[The reporter] was trying to balance [the camera], and he just looked really awkward; I just thought I'd help him out."