Oft-criticized Colorado Rapids striker Gabriel Torres shows promise in return from lengthy layoff

Colorado Rapids striker Gabriel Torres celebrates a goal vs. Seatttle

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Colorado Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- For weeks, Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni and striker Gabriel Torres have insisted the 25-year-old Panamanian is a changed player after spending several weeks losing weight and working on posture over a set of individualized exercises in May and early June.

For all the talk, however, there hadn’t been much action. Until Saturday night.

In the Rapids’ 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, Torres, the club’s first Designated Player in franchise history who slumped horribly to start the season, made a difference in the weekend’s road result.

Coming on in the 83rd minute for midfielder Dillon Serna, the Panamanian international made a big impact, providing the pass that led to Deshorn Brown’s brilliant 86th-minute equalizer. Torres himself nearly scored on a shot outside the 18 just minutes later.

Sure, it was only a 10-minute cameo, but for Torres, who came in without a goal or an assist all season, it looked like something had changed for the much-maligned striker, who appeared to be out of sorts both physically and mentally over the season’s opening two months.

“I felt very good [on Saturday],” Torres told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I was happy to provide the pass to help the team collect a valiant point on the road. The important thing is to keep working hard to keep helping the team.”

Mastroeni went over and beyond on Tuesday to emphasize his praise for Torres’ work on Saturday, saying he noted a change in his mentality in particular from the beginning of the season.

“It’s a complete makeover. It’s pretty remarkable,” Mastroeni said of Torres after Tuesday’s practice. “This guy has the potential to be as good as he wants to be. I think confidence is the next bit. I’m just excited to have him available for the games moving forward. It’s a tough [upcoming] stretch.”

Torres could get his chance in the starting lineup soon. With Vicente Sanchez and Nick LaBrocca ruled out for Friday’s game against the Portland Timbers (11 pm ET, NBCSN), there are increased ways that Mastroeni could shuffle his lineup to find playing time for the former Venezuelan league star, who joined the Rapids last summer.

“[Now] it’s about waiting for the right time to get in there, and when you get in there make a difference,” Mastroeni said of Torres. “But I think it’s very optimistic to see a guy that was out of so many first team games to be able to come in and be tuned into a game that needed something like that. And he was able to produce.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.