Union boss throws down the gauntlet on mercurial Torres

Philadelphia's Roger Torres

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PHILADELPHIA – Following the end of the 2012 season, Union manager John Hackworth said he “threw down the gauntlet” on midfielder Roger Torres.

Despite being a fan favorite and one of the team’s most creative players, the 21-year-old Colombian had struggled to earn consistent playing time in Philly, in part because he hasn’t always been in the best shape.

Hackworth told Torres, in no uncertain terms, that must change in 2013 – and so far, to the manager’s delight, it has.

“Very honestly we told Roger, ‘Either come back to the preseason fit and prepared and ready to meet the demands or you’re not going to be a part of this team,’” Hackworth said. “To his credit, Roger came in the door ready. His fitness is the best I’ve ever seen in four years. His mentality and approach is different. I think Roger senses this is the time to really take this opportunity.”

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Heading into his fourth MLS season, Torres is one of just three players who have been with the Union since the franchise’s expansion season in 2010, along with Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo. But while McInerney and Okugo enjoyed breakout seasons last year, Torres had a sharp falloff in 2012, playing only 181 minutes while struggling through injuries.

He knows he must get back on track this season and show the form that made him an important player for the Union in 2010 and 2011.

“I feel great,” Torres told MLSsoccer.com. “I came from an injury but in this offseason I worked hard and that made me better. I’m in good fitness right now. I want to show everybody on the team that I’m trying to help them win. I want to give everything for Philadelphia.”

READ: Union's Soumare looking to make up for lost time in 2013

Interestingly enough, Torres is the only player on this year’s roster from South America or Central America. In the past, the Union have stockpiled players from that region, but they cut ties with a few notable names this past offseason. In addition, fellow Colombian Carlos Valdés, Torres’ best friend on the team, recently began a one-year loan stint with Independiente Sante Fe.

Torres, however, didn’t seemed fazed by those departures.

“We’re still friends and we talk all the time,” Torres said of his relationship with Valdés. “It’s normal for soccer. Sometimes you’re here. Sometimes you’re on another team. But I think we have a great team right now."

And the team will almost certainly be better if Torres can continue to make strides as a “true playmaker,” as Hackworth called him.

“We don’t know exactly what his role will be, whether it’s a starting role or a supporting role,” the Union manager said. “But based on the first few days of the preseason, we’re quite optimistic about the fact that he’s taken a lot of responsibility in the offseason and that he’s done a great job coming into camp prepared.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.