TUKWILA — Roman Torres will wake up Saturday a changed player.
The Sounders FC defender chopped his dreads, a hairstyle Torres has grown for five years, as part of putting a 10-game MLS suspension behind him.
“Sometimes change is good,” said Torres in Spanish before heading to his hair appointment after training at Starfire Sports on Friday.
The suspension was for violating MLS’s substance-abuse policy. Torres, 33, tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance, according to the league. No other details were provided.
Torres followed an appeal process through the MLS Players Association and private lawyers but ultimately served the full suspension. Beginning Aug. 3, he was unable to participate in training with the Sounders or use the team’s facilities and was fined 20% of his approximate $740,000 salary for this season.
Wednesday was Torres’ first full session with the Sounders. He’s available to play in Seattle’s final regular-season road game in San Jose on Sunday. It’s unlikely Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer pulls rookie center back Xavier Arreaga from the starting lineup.
“He’s looking good,” Schmetzer said of Torres. “What he’s going to provide for us now is leadership, even if he’s not on the field. Leadership in the locker room. He’s always been very good about interacting with his teammates and helping them be better. When he steps on the field, based on what I’ve seen, he’ll be ready.”
Torres, who was acquired in August 2015, was on pace for one of his better MLS seasons when he was suspended. He started four consecutive games as the Sounders went 3-1 during the stretch and conceded just five goals.
Injuries and international call-ups toyed with the Sounders’ lineup through Torres’ suspension. The club was admittedly rocky defensively without its veterans — including Chad Marshall who retired in May because of chronic knee injuries. The Sounders have conceded 21 goals in Torres’ absence, recording one shutout.
During his suspension, Torres watched the Sounders play and said it was difficult to see the team struggle. The Sounders (14-10-8) qualified for a league-record 11th postseason berth Wednesday and are fourth in MLS Western Conference standings.
“I prepared myself physically and mentally the days that I wasn’t able to be here,” Torres said via a translator. “To be with the team in the locker room and be able to smile and dance again in the locker room, to drink lattes with Nico (Lodeiro) and my other teammates, that motivates me immensely — being back to be the family we’ve always been. Everything is behind us.”
Lodeiro, 30, participated in parts of the team’s training Friday. The captain was a late scratch from the starting lineup against D.C. United on Sept. 22 because of a lower back injury.
“He’s a tough kid. I wouldn’t bet against him,” said Schmetzer of Lodeiro, who sustained the injury Sept. 18 in a draw against FC Dallas.
“I don’t need him to be in full training,” Schmetzer continued. “I just need him to play pain-free.”
Sounders winger Victor Rodriguez shifted to center midfield in place of Lodeiro in D.C. The team was visibly disjointed as Lodeiro has not missing a minute of MLS play since July when he joined his Uruguayan national team for the Copa America.
“Our team changes with Nico off,” said Schmetzer, who’s leaning toward traveling Lodeiro for Sunday’s match in San Jose and making a game-time decision whether to play him.
“We saw that against D.C. The team just plays a little differently because Nico has such a large presence within our group. The guys that stepped in, our expectations are based on their strengths. Victor wasn’t poor against D.C. United. Yeah, the team didn’t do so well, but Victor was fine in there.”