COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – If Oscar Pareja had stuck to his original plan, Gabriel Torres probably wouldn’t have started in the Colorado Rapids’ 3-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night.
But fortunately for the Rapids, the striker talked his coach into starting him just four days after Torres’ Panamanian national team suffered a crushing 3-2 loss to the US on Tuesday, eliminating Panama from contention for the 2014 World Cup.
And sure enough, Torres delivered.
After coolly equalizing on a penalty kick in the 41st minute, Torres unleashed perhaps the Rapids’ best and most important goal of the season, a 77th minute upper-90 screamer that banged off the bottom of the crossbar and in, giving his team three points from a crucial game.
“He begged for [the chance to start],” Pareja told reporters postgame on Saturday. “He said, ‘Oscar, please, I need to play.’ It touched me.”
The last time Torres returned from international duty, Pareja left him on the bench in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on September 20. Nearly a month later and under similar circumstances, however, Torres was right back in Pareja’s lineup, providing the brace that pushed the Rapids to the brink of clinching a playoff spot with only one game to go in the regular season.
“When I came back, he talked with me and I know what kind of playoff position we were in, and I wanted to help,” Torres told reporters postgame on Saturday. “I was able to get a good recovery and play.”
On Tuesday night, two U.S. goals in stoppage time prevented Torres – who scored the first of Panama’s two goals – and Panama from earning their first-ever trip to the World Cup. On Wednesday, when Torres first returned from Panama, he said he spoke with Pareja and talked his coach into starting him.
Torres, the first Designated Player in Rapids history, was still visibly upset when he spoke with MLSsoccer.com on Friday, but he also spoke of using Saturday’s match to exact revenge for his heartbreak earlier in the week.
And on Saturday, Torres got what he couldn’t get on Tuesday: victory.
“I wanted to lift my team after Tuesday,” Torres said. “It was a tough game but it was really important to win.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.