Colorado Rapids Designated Player Gabriel Torres finally feels ready to return to competitive action

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – One year ago, the Colorado Rapids were just starting the process of trying to lure Gabriel Torres from Venezuelan side Zamora FC, hoping the Panamanian international would become the forerunner of their attack for years to come.

This year, the Rapids are hoping Torres can become – or return to being – the guy they thought they were getting when they made him the first Designated Player in club history last August.

There’s no doubting the first half of 2014 has gone far from the plan for the 25-year-old, who co-led the 2013 Gold Cup in scoring just before his move to Colorado. Last month, the Rapids shut Torres down from competitive action, working on his conditioning as they tried to get him back into full game shape.

With league action resuming for Colorado on Saturday vs. Vancouver (9 pm ET, MLS Live in US, TSN in Canada), Torres said he hopes to make a quick impact.

“I feel totally different the last few weeks, and I want a chance to be able to prove it on the field,” Torres told MLSsoccer.com after a recent practice.

Statistically, Torres did not provide his club anything over the first third of the season prior to the break. Playing in nine matches (five starts), he neither scored a goal nor provided an assist, managing just a single shot on goal in 423 minutes of action.

In person, Torres’ statistics were upheld by a striking and general inability to get involved, which the club ultimately determined to be caused by a lack of conditioning and improper physical posture, something both sides worked to rectify before Torres departed for several friendlies with the Panamanian national team late last month.

With Torres back, he is undoubtedly going to have to earn his spot in the lineup. The Rapids have scored nine goals in their last four MLS matches (15 in their last six games in all competitions), and Torres has not been a part of it, playing all of two minutes since May 7.

When he does get his chance, Torres believes he will show he is a different player from the one that struggled so mightily over the first three months of the season.

In multiple interviews and privately to coaches, Torres has stressed that he feels better now than he ever has after a set of specially individualized exercises designed to alleviate pain and improve his conditioning (Torres lost about 10 pounds last month). For him and the Rapids, the hope is that a frustrating spring can now turn into a fruitful summer.

“I feel really good and with a big desire to play,” Torres said. “I felt a bit of pain, but I feel different now physically. I’m trying to get better and help the team.”

The Rapids are in third place in the Western Conference at 6-5-4 despite Torres’ lack of production. Like last summer, when he produced three goals and one assist in seven games, Torres could provide some midseason punch if he can return to form, something both Torres and head coach Pablo Mastroeni say they believe will happen.

“I feel really good,” Torres said. “My experience with Panama was truly great and I have a great desire to help the club for the rest of the season.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.