Roger that: Hackworth weighs in on the Torres question
The question of where the Colombian belongs within this 2013 Philadelphia Union team is a little more complex than a post-game press conference can answer.
There’s the obvious answer that Hackworth offered Thursday at his weekly press conference: That Torres hasn’t done enough in training to earn the opportunity to play more than the 10 MLS minutes he’s gotten this season, last seeing the field in a meaningful match almost three months ago.
When training camp opened, back in late January, there was talk of Torres being in better shape than ever, finally banishing some of his fitness demons. That appears not to be the case anymore.
“I look at it that we have depth at a position that Roger Torres is competing for playing time right now,” Hackworth said. “And the fact is that guys that are in front of him and guys that have stepped in front of him have taken their opportunities and done better with them. At some point, I need to give Roger that same kind of chance, but he has to earn that chance.
“He and I have talked about it; it’s open. It’s not like there’s any issues. We don’t have a problem with Roger. I have no idea what’s been written and what people are saying, but what I do know is that Roger is a member of this team and he’s very important to us. I think that if the opportunity presents itself and Roger takes full advantage of it, he could play very well for us. And that’s my expectation. He wouldn’t be in our team if I didn’t feel that way.”
First and foremost, Hackworth wanted to explain his thought process heading into the 2-1 win over Ocean City Tuesday. For the Union during Hackworth’s tenure, the U.S. Open Cup has been seen as an attainable goal, one toward which resources have been thrown. It’s not a chance to rotate the squad and clean out the bench. Were a player like Torres to get that opportunity, it would’ve been based on two factors: Merit and match-up.
Neither, apparently, were in the 21-year-old midfielder’s favor. Though, to be fair, he wasn’t the only one for whom that was the case.
“I think you have to distinguish the fact that the Open Cup for us is not an opportunity to play guys on our roster,” were Hackworth’s words. “We’ve taken it very seriously. We want to win that trophy. And if you look at it like that – you’re going to think that, hey we’re going to give these guys chances – there are other guys that have earned or deserve an opportunity to play too: Aaron Wheeler, Don Anding, I can go on and on with guys in our locker room, Matt Kassel, guys that have worked tremendously hard and are very important to our team and what we do. They don’t get to be on the field sometimes, but from within our staff and our organization, we appreciate those guys and value them for the professionals that they are on and off the field.
“I can’t control what people say out there. I can’t control what the fans talk about sometimes. All I can do is put the best 11 on the field, and the Open Cup was certainly an opportunity where we were solely focused on getting a result with the best team that we thought was available on that day.”
Hackworth doesn’t seem interested in the ‘what if’s’ that drive discussion in so many other places. He knows the commodities he has in his midfield, he knows what he has in Torres, and he doesn’t believe that the latter quantity is worthy of displacing any of the former.
Part of it is a tactical mismatch. In truth, the majority of the Union’s midfielders are of the same type. If, within the confines of the Union’s 4-4-2 system to which Hackworth seems fairly loyal, you were to ask what the most fitting position for Keon Daniel, Torres, Leo Fernandes, Kleberson and even Michael Farfan would be, the answer would be paired centrally with Brian Carroll. (I think with the tendency of Farfan and Daniel to want to tuck inside, they are being played out of position on the left wing in lieu of a true runner.)
But there’s a key distinction to be made. In talking with Bakary Soumare before his move to Chicago, he used a telling phrase that “it’s not like Freddy,” of course referencing Adu. The Malian defender meant that he was in constant discussions with Hackworth and the Union coaching staff over his future and the trade request he submitted; where communication with Adu irrevocably broke down, Soumare and the Union continued to work together to find a workable solution for both sides.
From discussions with Hackworth, it seems that Torres’ time in the wilderness has followed the same pattern. He and Hackworth have kept on as close to the same page as possible despite their obvious difference in tactical opinion. When asked point blank Thursday if Torres was being shopped around, the response was “not at all,” and no indication has been given by Torres that any such request has been lodged.
For now, it’s a waiting game … which looks like the only game Torres can find a place in.