Roman Torres promised to be a different player when he returned from MLS suspension.
No one expected that to mean a goal-scorer.
The Sounders FC defender chopped his long dreads last week and sported a new fade Sunday as he made his first start since July after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. It was a haircut that seemed to clear the way for a header in the opening half against Minnesota United FC that proved to be a game-winner at CenturyLink Field.
The play — Torres’ first goal in five MLS seasons, all as a Sounder — clinched a 1-0 victory as well as second place in Western Conference standings for Seattle (16-10-8). The position grants Seattle home-field advantage through the conference semifinals and sets up a first-round matchup against FC Dallas on Oct. 19 at CenturyLink Field.
“It was very hard to be out of playing for about 10 games,” Torres said via translation from Spanish. He played two minutes as a substitute in a victory against San Jose last week.
“This is a demonstration that during that time that I wasn’t able to play, I was preparing myself and keeping myself in good shape so after those 10 games I was able to play and thankfully make this very beautiful goal. I feel very happy about that.”
Minnesota (15-11-8) and Seattle were level record-wise entering the match, with United getting the tiebreaker by way of goal-differential. But the visitors didn’t bunker in hopes of sneaking out with a draw.
The Loons played freely as Seattle opened the match dominating possession of the ball at 71% through the 15th minute. The Sounders had 10 shots on goal overall in the first half compared to three for the Loons.
“There was no reason for it,” said Minnesota coach Adrian Heath of the defensive tactic. “We had a good shake and I thought we were going to score. All day, I thought we were going to score. I thought we were going to catch them on the break, but it wasn’t to be.”
Seattle midfielder Joevin Jones set up the sole score in the 29th minute. He boomed a left-footed cross to Torres, who sat behind Minnesota’s defense at the far post. Torres connected with the pass with a running header to his left, skimming the ball past Loons keeper Vito Mannone.
Torres said the play was like schemes Seattle practices with midfielder Nico Lodeiro serving corner kicks. After the score, Torres dedicated the goal to God and his family, noting his son told him Sunday morning he’d score in the match.
While Torres hadn’t previously buried a goal for Seattle, he’s not new to scoring in big moments. He had the MLS Cup-clinching penalty kick for Seattle in 2016. The Panamanian also scored a game-winner against Costa Rica to send his country to its first FIFA World Cup appearance in 2018.
“I’m just so proud that he was able to continue to keep himself in shape and continue to keep believing in himself,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “The players all believe in Roman and I believe in Roman. He was a big part of this game because he scored, but I also think he played pretty well defensively.”
Minnesota, which will make the franchise’s first postseason appearance as the No. 4 seed, had one shot on-target in the match. Forward Darwin Quintero had the attempt in the 54th minute that Sounders keeper Stefan Frei cradled for a save.
Seattle conceded 19 goals during Torres’ suspension, also dealing with injuries and red-card suspensions during the stretch. The club has produced three clean sheets in its past five matches, including Sunday.
“Sometimes it’s a little of bend and don’t break,” Frei said of what’s changed defensively. “Coming into this game, high-stakes game and pressure is on, to come out with a clean sheet, again, is good. In particular what I liked is I think our high-press worked quite well, especially in the first half.”
The United was amped prior to the game as its captain, Ozzie Alonso, was honored by the Sounders. He signed with Minnesota in January after a decorated 10-year career with Seattle, helping the club win the 2016 MLS Cup.
Emotion overflowed after the game with Alonso getting hugs from former teammates and applause from fans.
Seattle drew a crowd of 47,297 for its season finale and expects the same for the postseason. But there’s a two-week delay due to a FIFA window that runs Monday through Oct. 15.
The Sounders had eight players called up in Jordan Morris (U.S.), Cristian Roldan (U.S.), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Jordy Delem (Martinique), Brad Smith (Australia), Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), and Torres.
It doesn’t matter to the coaching staff, which Schmetzer said started working on strategy to defeat Dallas about 20 minutes after Sunday’s victory.
“This game was special,” Torres said.
NOTE: Lodeiro, the Sounders’ captain, returned to the lineup after missing two matches due to a lower back injury. He left in the 88th minute due to cramps.