HOUSTON – It’s only been six games, but it’s clear that Erick “Cubo” Torres has his groove back.
After a wildly disappointing first two years in Houston, the Mexican Designated Player leads MLS with six goals, three of which came in a hat trick in a 4-1 win against the New York Red Bulls. His resurgence has played a major role in Houston’s solid start to the year, with the fourth-place Dynamo playing an exciting, attacking brand of soccer to pick up 10 points through their first six games of 2017, ahead of a nationally-televised match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (3:55 pm ET | UniMás, Facebook.com in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
It’s a far cry from 2015 and 2016, when Torres – who has already logged 511 minutes in six starts this year – recorded zero goals and two assists in just 22 MLS appearances, only seven of which were starts.
Last season was particularly tough on Torres, who called 2016 the most difficult year of his career.
“It was frustrating. It was maddening being relegated to the bench, to enter a game with five minutes left and the team already losing by multiple goals,” Torres said. “It was even more frustrating knowing that I was doing well with the Mexican Olympic squad only to come back to the club and not play.”
Torres notes that those tough times helped him mature into the player that he is today. And while he’s received plenty of praise for his rebirth, he credits new Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera – Torres’ head coach at Chivas USA in 2014 – with helping his resurgence.
“When the year was ending and 2017 was beginning, that was a turning point for me,” Torres said. “I upped my focus and concentration knowing that I was going to have a little more stability with the news that Wilmer Cabrera was going to be there [Houston], and that he wanted me there. That helped me a lot."
"But without a doubt at [a] New Year's Eve party with the family, with my uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, that was the turning point when I decided that I couldn't be in that situation anymore. And that I was going to return to my best moments like I had with Chivas USA."
Cabrera, who some have dubbed the “Cubo Whisperer”, is no stranger to getting success out of Torres. The striker had the best year of his career under the Colombian manager, scoring 15 goals in 29 appearances under Cabrera with Chivas USA in 2014.
There are plenty of qualities that Torres likes about Cabrera, who he called a “tacticious” person. Chief among them is the fact that the manager has always been straightforward with him. Torres cited a preseason meeting with Cabrera as an example of the coach’s frank demeanor, but didn’t want to go into the specifics of the talk.
“I had a lot of talks with Cabrera before the season started,” Torres said. “Cabrera told me that we needed to work together to, first of all, have me return to playing at a high level. And second, to return the Dynamo to the glory days.”
The Dynamo front office – president Chris Canetti, GM/VP Matt Jordan and assistant GM Nick Kowba – also get an assist for Torres’ revival. The trio connected Torres with a nutritionist who specializes in gluten-free diets.
The nutritionist altered Torres’ diet, resulting in a fitter, happier, more comfortable Cubo.
“I feel stronger. I feel more agile. I wake up with more energy. I feel like I think faster,” he said. “All those things are helping me right now to give the team results.”
Aside from helping the team get positive results, Torres’ goals are giving him the stage to perform the robot celebration that he’s known for around MLS.
The last time Torres did his signature celebration in the league was 2014 with Chivas. Now, a new generation of fans are witnessing it for the first time, including young Oliver Kirton, who plays for local soccer club Texas Heatwave.
Kirton’s father posted an Instagram video of his son scoring a goal and celebrating by imitating Torres’ robot celebration. Torres – who met Kirton on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium, with both doing the robot – shared the video and complimented the young fan.
“To know that he did it thinking about me and my celebration is something that I will remember for a long time,” Torres said. “I’m gonna tell my grandkids about it.”
Despite his rough first two years in Houston, Torres never lacked fans. He said that he’s always gotten plenty of love from the city and team, which was on display after his hat trick against New York on April 1. After the match, fans threw hats and sombreros on the BBVA Compass Stadium pitch, with Torres remaining on the field longer than any other player as he tried to put as many on as possible.
Later that night, after he finished speaking with the media in the Dynamo locker room, Torres wanted to take a picture with the game ball, which had been signed by all the Dynamo players and staff. He stood in the middle of the locker room, ball in hand.
But before the photo could be taken, he stopped.
Torres wanted the Dynamo logo in the center of the floor to be in the photo, but it was covered by used jerseys. So he handed the ball to staff and started removing the shirts, eventually clearing the logo for his picture.
It was a small gesture, but showing the logo was emblematic of a player who’s ecstatic that the Dynamo are back on track. Torres wants individual success in Houston, but he wants to leave a mark on the team, a legacy, even. To do that, he knows the Dynamo have to win.
“I’m happy that this year things are going well, that I can give them [fans] some joy with goals and good performances,” Torres said. “At the end of the day everything we do on the pitch is for the fans, and for the Dynamo.”