The one that almost got away: How the Colorado Rapids snared first-ever DP Gabriel Torres

Gabriel Torres with Rapids scarf

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Colorado Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Three weeks ago, the Colorado Rapids thought they had firmly secured the services of their first Designated Player in franchise history.

A week ago, Rapids technical director Paul Bravo and team president Tim Hinchey were sweating it out, not knowing whether the man they’d spent months – and wads of cash – trying to acquire would actually be joining them after all.

Today, Gabriel Torres is a Rapid, but only after a long, drawn-out saga with more twists and turns than a South American soap opera, one that left the Colorado front office in limbo for more than two weeks.

“First of all, we have to recognize all the effort and all the work that Paul and the team and the ownership has put into this deal,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja told MLSsoccer.com about the process of acquiring Torres. “It’s not easy to bring a player that is still very young and has been in the media in a very prestigious tournament. For me, it was support from my side, but as I said, the time Paul and the team and ownership put into this is remarkable.”

The process of acquiring the talented 24-year-old Panamanian striker traces back to the early spring, when the Rapids’ technical staff, headed by Bravo (at right), first started studying tapes of Torres from his Venezuelan club, Zamora FC. The Rapids liked what they saw, enough to put him on their discovery list in May. Then the Rapids made contact with Torres’ representatives with an eye towards acquiring him in MLS’ July international transfer window.

After Torres led Zamora to the Venezuelan Clausura title in late May, pouring in 11 goals over 15 games, the Rapids considered acquiring Torres before the start of the Gold Cup, where he was scheduled to feature for his native Panama. But the Rapids, and Bravo in particular, wanted to make sure about their investment, so they elected to wait and see Torres at the Gold Cup before moving forward.

All Torres did was co-lead the Gold Cup with five goals, including an impressive brace in Panama’s 2-1 group stage victory over Mexico. By coincidence, Torres came to Colorado on July 14, traveling with the Panamanian squad to their group stage match at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Bravo and Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja met him for dinner in Denver following Panama’s scoreless draw with Canada.

It was there Pareja sold Torres on Colorado’s youth rebuilding project, while Torres, who had a reputation of being a bit immature in years past, sold the Rapids that he could handle the lofty expectations associated with becoming the club’s first-ever Designated Player.

“I think he felt not only from a playing standpoint for where he’s at in his career, but also from a family standpoint,” Bravo told MLSsoccer.com of Torres’ reasons for choosing the Rapids. “He’s got a kid, and I think the lure of being able to raise your child in the US and in Denver did it for him.”

On July 24, news first trickled out that the Rapids and Torres had reached an agreement for his transfer to become Colorado’s new star man up top. A few days later, Bravo spoke publicly about Torres’ looming transfer and said a formal announcement was expected a few days after that.

All appeared well until a few days later, in early August, reports revealed that San Francisco, the Panamanian club which owned Torres’ rights, were apparently shopping Torres around to European and Mexican clubs in an attempt to drive up the player’s buying price. With time, Torres seemed to be slipping from the Rapids’ grasp, seemingly bound for greener pastures overseas.

But Torres’ representatives, San Francisco and the Rapids remained in contact throughout the process. On August 7, Torres flew from Panama to Miami, and then on August 8, mere hours before the close of the transfer window, Torres arrived at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to complete the final details on a four-and-a-half year contract after a fortnight of sleepless nights for Bravo and the Rapids’ technical staff, who feared that they’d lost the man they’d worked so hard to get.

“Gaby was one of several players that we had painstakingly monitored through this process, knowing that the window was going to be open and knowing that the potential was always going to be there to maybe add a DP,” Bravo said. “We were very diligent with the amount of work that we put into this knowing that it’s a big decision and making a right decision was very, very important to us. Not just this year, but moving forward.”

The Rapids aren’t traditionally big spenders. They unceremoniously dumped their all-time leading goalscorer and their highest-paid player, Conor Casey, last November. They also parted ways with well-paid veterans Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings and Hunter Freeman during the offseason. They’ve never had a Designated Player before.

But with the young, SuperDraft-built Rapids surging over the last two months, Colorado made little secret of their strong interest in locking down a veteran striker to help put them over the top, particularly with Edson Buddle battling nagging injuries and rookie Deshorn Brown battling inconsistent finishing in front of the net.

Colorado president Tim Hinchey praised team ownership for giving the Rapids the go-ahead to splurge not only on Torres but veteran Uruguayan striker Vicente Sánchez, who also arrived just days before the closure of last Thursday’s international transfer window – even if the stress of Torres’ bumpy acquisition also meant the acquisition of a few extra gray hairs in the process.

“We had so much competition out there for his signature,” Bravo said. “At the end of the day, it was more about the player wanting to be here and us being able to find the right balance from a financial situation for him. I believe the club [offered] less for him to come here compared to some of the other offers that were out there.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.