TUCSON – In the summer of 2013, Gabriel Torres was riding high, finishing tops at the Gold Cup with five goals, helping Panama to a surprise appearance in the tournament’s final, and engineering a move to become the first Designated Player in Colorado Rapids history.
Less than a year later, he had crashed back down to earth.
Torres struggled after former Colorado head coach Oscar Pareja left for Dallas in January 2014, failing to adapt under new boss Pablo Mastroeni. He barely even got on the field for a Rapids team that finished with the third-worst record in the league, sitting out three weeks in May and June to focus on fitness and recording just three goals and one assist – the same numbers he had in seven games in 2013 – in 23 appearances last season.
That’s not DP-level production, and a far cry from what Colorado thought they were getting when they acquired the 26-year-old in a highly publicized transfer from Venezuelan club Zamora FC in August 2013.
“I think anytime you have a new coach and a new philosophy, certain players are going to adapt well and certain players aren’t,” Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com last week in Tucson. “That’s just an inherent part of sport. I was asking a lot of Gaby that he had never been asked to do before in his career. I think it was a paradigm shift for him.”
Specifically, Mastroeni wanted Torres to contribute more on the defensive side of the ball. That was new for the talented striker, who hadn’t developed that side of his game during otherwise successful stints at clubs in Panama and Venezuela.
“We need Gaby to defend the right way, to be dynamic with his movements off the ball, to be dynamic when he has the ball and like any good forward, get on the score sheet,” Mastroeni said. “Forwards these days aren’t the luxury players they were of years past. They’re asked to really be an integral part of both sides of the ball.”
Torres acknowledges that last year was far from his best. The one-time wonder kid – he received his first full international cap at 16 – knows he didn’t come close to hitting expectations in 2014, and seems to be motivated to get things right this season.
“It’s been different having the two different coaching staffs, and at the beginning I didn’t understand what Pablo wanted,” Torres said via a translator. “But now I’m understanding. I’m taking in a lot, understanding a lot, I’m being like a sponge, soaking everything in and I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity I get.”
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Torres has looked good this preseason, scoring a pair of goals and notching an assist at the Desert Diamond Cup. More importantly, he’s in shape and has been committed on both sides of the ball.
A year and a half after signing the first DP deal in club history, he finally looks ready to deliver on some of his promise, something the Rapids will need if they’re to rebound from last season’s disappointments.
“I think so far this preseason he’s been one of the more dynamic players,” Mastroeni said. “I think that’s again a byproduct of time. Everything takes time. It happens quick for some, and for others it takes a while. But I think there’s no doubting Gaby’s commitment and understanding of what we’re trying to do here.
“I think, in preseason, Gaby’s really reaped rewards of his work on both sides of the ball.”