CHESTER, Pa. – Every time he comfortably corrals a pass or effortlessly threads a ball through the opposing defense, Philadelphia Union midfielder Roger Torres looks at home.
But it’s important to remember that the Colombian is actually far from home. And the Union coaches know they have to be very delicate when dealing with a 5-foot-5, 19-year-old kid living about 2,500 miles from his native country.
“I know how close he is to his family, especially his mother, so that part is especially challenging,” said the Union’s head of scouting and player development, Diego Gutierrez, who first discovered Torres in Colombia. “But he’s dealt with it very well.”
It’s certainly helped that Gutierrez as well three other Union players – Faryd Mondragón, Carlos Valdés and Juan Diego González Alzate – also hail from Colombia and understand the challenges of playing professional soccer in a foreign country. They’ve all been quick to help their 19-year-old countryman.
“It makes me feel really confident to have players with such experience because they can actually tell me what I’m doing wrong and correct me,” said Torres. “So I feel really confident when I get on the field and they’re there with me.”
The Union coaches also feel like they need to help Torres as he adjusts to the league’s physicality while working to improve his defense. Since last season, when he first came to Philly, the Colombian has been an important part of the team’s offense, but not yet a 90-minute player.
Still, despite his age and size, Torres has been progressing about as well as the coaching staff could have hoped. Last year, he was third on the club with six assists, and earlier this month, he netted his first MLS goal.
“It’s not about the size,” said Gutierrez, who helped facilitate Torres’ deal with Philly last year before he officially became a part of the Union technical staff. “The top three players in the world are 5' 7" or shorter in Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. A very intelligent player is what Roger is. He’s extremely smart and has tremendous vision. We are going to protect him from the standpoint that he needs to be in situations where he is successful. But as he progresses, he’ll begin to see more and more minutes.
“I said from the minute we brought the kid here that he’s a quality player and he will give fans a lot of quality moments,” Gutierrez continued. “But we have to have patience with him. He’s still only 19 years old.”
For Torres, being patient will likely pay off down the road as he plans to earn more minutes and develop into more of a well-rounded player. It will also pay off even sooner than that as he expects his mom to come to her first Union game as early as next month.
For him, that will help show why it was important for him to leave home at such a young age.
“It’s very difficult for everybody, but this is my work,” Torres said. “I need to do it. It’s for my family, too. I’m happy here. I just need to understand that this is my job and it’s what I like to do.”