Torres said last week that he's still a few games away from his pre-injury self, but he certainly looked something close to 100 percent against the 'Quakes -- the mid-to-high-90s, at the very least.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Sounders center back Roman Torres was so physically imposing throughout Saturday night’s 1-1 draw with the Earthquakes that it was almost hard to even fathom him lying on that same stretch of Avaya Stadium grass clutching his knee.
Saturday was almost a year ago to the day that Torres suffered a left ACL tear against San Jose on Sept. 12, 2015. His return to the Seattle starting lineup for the first time since his injury made for a bit of tidy symbolism, the Panamanian defender defiantly standing tall in the stadium that’d brought him lowest.
Torres said last week that he’s still a few games away from his pre-injury self, but he certainly looked something close to 100 percent against the ‘Quakes — the mid-to-high-90s, at the very least.
In the same way that a hard-hitting free safety can cause receivers to think twice about going across the middle, Torres forces opposing attackers to reconsider charging in for that loose ball — especially after they’ve been sent sprawling to the turf a couple of times by well-placed shoulder shoves. As the game wears on, Torres seems to be able to deter attackers simply by standing there menacingly.
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“He has a lot of presence,” as Seattle midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro said through a translator afterward.
Coaches and teammates alike praised Torres’ leadership even while he was still undergoing his rehabilitation, describing his as a forceful voice in team meetings even when he couldn’t play. There’s a reason why he was called into the Panamanian national team as an honorary captain throughout his rehab. His influence has only grown more forceful now that he’s back in action.
“He’s in good spirits, and when you’re around a bunch of positive people, you yourself become positive,” interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said last week. “He has helped push it. The group was already moving in the right direction. Roman coming in just adds to that.”
– For the second straight game, the Sounders stumbled out of the gate and it cost them. San Jose wasn’t quite as dominant as Portland was during its four-goal first half at Providence Park a few weeks ago. But for the opening 25 minutes or so, Seattle had the ‘Quakes looking like an attacking juggernaut rather than a team that’s averaged just a goal per game this season.
“They kept possession in our end of the field,” Schmetzer said. “It came wave after wave. We defend, defend, defend, then we give the ball away. We were never able to break any of their pressure. You could sense something bad was going to happen.”
And it did, when Sounders right back Tyrone Mears shanked an attempted clearance right into Jordan Stewart’s path to set up Chris Wondolowski’s opening goal.
– It’s increasingly clear that Cristian Roldan’s best position, at least within this team and at this stage in his development, is next to Osvaldo Alonso in the defensive midfield line of Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1. Those two have developed a solid partnership in recent weeks, both playing of the other’s strengths.
Roldan was forced to play further forward on the right wing on Saturday, with Erik Friberg slotting next to Alonso, the positional musical chairs a knock-on effect of Clint Dempsey’s continued absence. Roldan battled gamely, playing 80 minutes despite a “bum” ankle that necessitated a pregame fitness test. Yet the attack again lacked the pop of the early days of Schmetzer’s tenure, chemistry lacking and balance thrown off.
Whether it’s Roldan growing into a new role, Alvaro Fernandez getting another shot in the starting lineup or finding a way to fit Nelson Valdez back in, the Sounders need to find some combination that better copes with Dempsey’s absence before it’s too late.
– I give Avaya Stadium a solid B-plus, ranking it solidly in the top half of Major League Soccer stadia.
Pros: While a bit spartan-looking from the outside, the atmosphere inside is positively cozy; North America’s longest outdoor bar is, in fact, long; the food trucks and grassy knoll behind said bar are a nice touch; the crowd was rowdy and engaged from start to finish.
Cons: Location next to the San Jose airport is isolated and low on amenities, especially post-match; it’s bit low-frills when to compared to, say, Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City or Red Bull Arena.
Overall, a worthy addition to the league.