There will be dancing, even in a pandemic.
“He promised me,” Sounders FC coach Brian Schmetzer said Friday during a video conference call with media of defender Roman Torres. The two-time MLS champion was reacquired by the club this week, but not before an honest conversation between coach and player.
Despite the lengthy call, it didn’t take long for Torres’ jovial personality to shine through. He’s in the midst of a mandatory 10-day quarantine and could be available for selection for the Sounders’ match Oct. 11 when Seattle faces Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium.
And he’ll be watching as the Sounders (7-3-3) host the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5-9-0) on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
“I take the locker room very seriously and I wanted to make sure it was the right fit for the group and it is,” Schmetzer said of Torres’ return. “Roman is happy to come back, he’s going to work hard to get into the starting lineup. There’s no guarantees. He promised me he will be his natural, joyful self in the training field, in the locker room, singing, dancing, hopefully a few more victories, dances and that’s what sealed it for me. Having a good conversation with a proven winner.”
Torres would have preferred the club make a commitment to him after helping it win the 2019 MLS Cup. The Sounders didn’t pick up the option on his contract, instead wanting to negotiate a deal less than the $750,000 Torres made that season, according to figures provided by the MLS Players Association.
Torres announced his departure via social media and was later signed by Inter Miami CF, an MLS expansion club. But after appearing in just five of 14 matches, four as a starter, Torres asked his agent to look for other options.
“It was good to hear that the club was open for this return,” Torres said Friday as translated from Spanish during a video conference call with media. “When I left (in 2019), the agreement wasn’t the way that everybody wanted (but) when I left, I was happy. … If there had been anything bad, I wouldn’t be back here now.”
A willingness to work within the Sounders’ salary cap and playing a position the club needs on the field also benefited Torres.
Preferred starters Raul Ruidiaz (Peru), Gustav Svensson (Sweden) and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) are expected to depart after Saturday’s match to join their respective national teams for two matches spread over the next two weeks. Peru and Ecuador are playing in World Cup qualifier matches while Sweden is in UEFA Nations League competitions.
MLS requires a 10-day quarantine for players who travel internationally or change clubs, meaning the trio will at least miss five Sounders matches. Svensson and Arreaga are key to the club’s defense. Now Torres can slide into the center back rotation with Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Shane O’Neill.
Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, also had to fill two roster spots under MLS rules to carry 18. When midfielder Harry Shipp retired last spring, the Sounders had 16 players and less than $500,000 to spend after headlining deals last winter to acquire midfielder Joao Paulo and Gomez Andrade.
Left back Brad Smith, who was also part of the 2019 title, was willing to backload his three-year contract to return last month. Miami is picking up the majority of Torres’ pay as part of the trade and he’s signed through the end of the 2020 season.
“On paper, these guys are better than the assets we had available to acquire them,” Lagerwey said Friday during a video conference call with media. “That only happens when our club has a good culture and our players have good relationships with our coaches and ownership and the front office.”
Torres intimated that appreciation of the organization Friday. And although performance in training will ultimately decide playing time, the Sounders will likely be desperate for center backs again in November.
FIFA has another international window that begins the day after MLS closes its truncated regular season Nov. 8 and runs through Nov. 18 – two days before the slated start of the league’s playoffs. Ruidiaz, Arreaga and Svensson are expected to be called up while Nico Lodeiro (Uruguay) is a possibility.
“This is the year to be flexible,” Lagerwey said. “We’ve had three different phases of the season and played in different places and played in a bubble (at Walt Disney World in Florida). Through everything, we’ve kept the right mentality and we’ve just persevered. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
And now there will be dancing led by Torres.
MLS set the date for the Sounders’ postponed match against the Los Angeles Galaxy for Nov. 4 at L.A.’s Dignity Health Sports Park. The original Aug. 26 match was postponed as players from both sides participated in a pro sports-wide strike in support of Black Lives Matter protests after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Sounders also rescheduled the club’s Oct. 24 match against the Portland Timbers to Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. Fans are not permitted to attend.