Has Facundo Torres jumpstarted what has thus far been a disappointing season?
The Orlando City SC attacking midfielder, a Young Designated Player acquired from Peñarol in his native Uruguay in 2022, got off to a slow start last year, but eventually evolved into an impact player for the Lions. He registered nine goals and 10 assists in 33 games, played a vital role in the club's US Open Cup title run and landed on Uruguay's World Cup roster.
It's taken Torres a bit to warm up in 2023, though, posting 2g/2a heading into Saturday's Matchday 17 contest at the New York Red Bulls. But he showed a glimpse of his terrific potential at Red Bull Arena, turning a 1-0 Orlando lead into a 3-0 rout behind a second-half brace.
Is this a sign of things to come for the 23-year-old, who stands as Orlando's club-record signing (reported $7.5 million fee + incentives)?
"I'm the first one to recognize that and know that I need to work and try to find my game, and it was the same thing last year where I had to work to find my game," Torres said through a translator after the match. "I think the way we've been playing the last couple of weeks and the way we've been working together has really helped me add to my confidence."
Torres' first goal of the evening came from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute to stretch Orlando's advantage to 2-0. He completed his double 20 minutes later following a Red Bulls giveaway, calmly depositing an Iván Angulo pass inside the box into the back of the net to finish the scoring. It was more than enough to lift Orlando to a fifth consecutive unbeaten result (2W-0L-3D) and a second win in three tries, while tying for the league lead with four wins away from home.
And the timing is good for Torres, with Marcelo Bielsa taking the reins of the Uruguayan men's national team following the departure of former Inter Miami CF head coach Diego Alonso following the World Cup. He was named to La Celeste's squad for upcoming matches against Nicaragua (June 14) and Cuba (June 20).
"When you're having good adaptations and good run of form with your club, it's just going to help you even more with the national team and when you get called up. Obviously, we've all been wanting to work hard with [Bielsa] coming in...and for me, I'm just incredibly proud," Torres said.
Torres, one of three DPs in Orlando alongside striker Ercan Kara and midfielder Martín Ojeda, will be a huge piece of the club possibly emerging from the Eastern Conference pack. They're also mindful of not loading too much pressure on him.
"It's important for him to score," said head coach Oscar Pareja. "It's important for him to [have] one of these games like tonight where he's happy scoring two goals and carrying the team on his shoulders. We don't want to throw the full responsibility on him on scoring, but obviously he knows that, and today was a night where it may be a turning point for him as well."