Union subs make compelling case for spot in lineup

Philadelphia's Roger Torres

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CHESTER, Pa. – Now that the Philadelphia Union are chasing the aggregate-goals Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Houston Dynamo after the first leg, does manager Peter Nowak make another switch in the lineup and go more attack-minded?

It’s one of several questions that Nowak will be pondering following Sunday night’s 2-1 home loss to Houston in the first leg. During that match at PPL Park, the Union enjoyed their best stretch as they pushed hard for another goal late in the second half.

In the middle of all the best opportunities were second-half substitutes Freddy Adu (76th minute), Roger Torres (68th minute) and Jack McInerney (62nd minute). And as a groundswell begins to grow to have one or more of them included in the starting XI, Nowak revealed the reason for sitting them on Sunday.

“[Houston] move the ball from side to side and there’s a lot of running involved,” Nowak said in his postgame press conference. “We cannot play a couple of guys just looking at the game. So we need to see. But I don’t necessarily disagree that they brought us life and brought us something different.”

Torres is already presenting his candidacy for a starting spot.

“If the coach believes in another formation for the next game, we’ll be ready whether he wants to count on me in the first XI or he goes out with the same team [as Sunday],” Torres said after the match. “We all have the same mentality. We all want to win and we all want to advance. We have to be ready and stay calm. We can’t say that just because we lost, we’ve lost everything.”

The 20-year-old Colombian, for whom the Union own the option for an outright acquisition this offseason, started six consecutive matches for the club in September but dropped back to the bench after seemingly breaking through for good.

“When the manager gave me the chance, I think I took advantage and did well and scored goals and gave assists and made a contribution,” Torres said on Saturday. “That’s why I’m here. The coach decides who starts. I’m not recriminating. I’m just another player waiting for the opportunity.

“He’s a coach who plans every game differently. So the past games that he didn’t put me as a starter, [it's] because according to the game plan, I don’t fit with what he wants. But he tells me I’m an important player for him and I’ll always be there when he needs me.”

Torres can make his best case for a starting spot by pointing to the Sunday’s second half, which Nowak himself admitted was a massive improvement.

“I think the second half was much better in terms of overall fighting and finding good possession, but also finding good openings,” Nowak said. “We had a lot of chances. We had 10 or 11 shots on goal, so it is a good number. The last piece is to finish them. A couple of them should be finished.”