By the end of the 68th minute of the Philadelphia Union’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, Roger Torres was a Philly hero. The 19-year-old Colombian entered the game and scored less than 30 seconds later, ending up netting the game winner.
With only a touch, Torres put the Union into the talk of soccer heads throughout the country. Mwanga stole a pass by Red Bulls center defender Tim Ream and pushed forward towards goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. A careful, natural stroke with his left foot gave the diminutive Torres his first ever MLS goal.
This MLS season has put the midfielder in a similar position to that of last year. Despite producing when playing (he averages a point per every 1.5 games) in short stints, Torres has yet to find consistent play on the Union. Since arriving from América de Cali in Colombia, the loaned in Torres has scored a goal and assisted on six others in under 1000 minutes of play for the Union.
The problem for the Union and head coach Piotr Nowak is when Torres should be involved in a game: from the start or as a second half impact substitution?
It's been brought up multiple times by numerous local media outlets that Torres has been stellar in his impact sub role. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the midfield is nowhere near as creative at any point as it is with Torres weaving his magic from the center of the attack.
Right now it appears that Nowak is happier with the young Colombian's stamina this season, versus how he approached Torres' fitness and playing levels last season. Torres' amount of playing time was sporadic in 2010, which can be chalked up to the aforementioned Nowakian dislike of Pepito's endurance.
However, Torres appears to have put some muscle on and improved his stamina over the offseason. In the short period of time that Torres has played so far this season, he's shown the signs of brilliance that made the Union not only bring him in on loan, but also re-up his original one.
After inserting Amobi Okugo into the game after Brian Carroll was forced off in the sixth minute, the team was noticeably different from the midfield – though hampered by Stefani Miglioranzi‘s continued below average play. After halftime, a shift in the midfield with Justin Mapp coming out for Danny Mwanga and Keon Daniel giving new life from the center of the team. Torres, as has become typical for Nowak’s substitution decisions, came on after the 65th minute (68th to be exact).
Despite previous instances in which Torres clearly changed the flow of the game for the Union, Nowak has chosen to leave the second-year MLS player on the bench for the majority of any given game. It appears that Nowak will keep Torres as that super-sub for prime impact late in games, using his fresh legs to rip apart opposing defenses.
At this point in time, it's almost painful to say that Nowak is correct in his approach to how to best utilize Torres. It's almost a travesty to leave such a talent on the bench only for late game substitutions, but Nowak could still be wary about playing Torres too much.
Wait-and-see should be the plan at this point. Nowak isn't outsmarting himself by playing it cautious with Torres. In fact, he's doing exactly what he should do for both Torres' potential health and his ability to stay effective for an entire season.