There was little reason to expect much from Erick “Cubo” Torres coming into this season. His past two years with the Houston Dynamo were so bad (and scoreless) that the Dynamo attempted to offload him to Cruz Azul, who declined a transfer option after his disastrous loan last year. But if there was a glimmer of hope for this year – any reason to believe a better 2017 was possible for Torres – it came from the fact that the Dynamo hired a new manager: Wilmer Cabrera.
The last time Torres was scoring goals and looking like a star was under Cabrera at Chivas USA in 2014. That was the year Cubo became one of the league-leading goal-scorers and earned a Mexican national team look. If anyone was going to make Torres, still just 24 years old, a star again, it’d be Cabrera.
The Dynamo did add more attacking pieces in this offseason – players who could’ve pushed Torres out of the picture even further this year – but Cabrera, knowing full-well Torres’ potential, made Cubo a centerpiece of his attack. Now, Torres is off to a red-hot start, scoring six goals in the Dynamo’s first four games this season.
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In other words, Cubo is back and he looks better than ever. On Saturday, he scored his first-ever hat trick in a win over the New York Red Bulls and, through five weeks of the MLS season, he tops the league in goals.
Some fans having jokingly called Cabrera the “Cubo Whisperer,” referring to Cabrera’s uncanny ability to bring the most out of Torres. But the coach is reluctant to take credit for Cubo’s resurgence, telling FOX Sports after the Dynamo’s recent match in Portland that it all starts with the player.
“It has to come from him first. I don’t have any special tricks in my pocket,” Cabrera said. “I’m another coach that, I know him, and I’ll try to work with him. I’ll try to work with all the players, but we all have to be confident that we have talent and, in this case, Erick has the talent.”
“If he’s motivated, the way he is, he’s going to get better and better.”
That is exactly what appears to be happening. With his hat trick over the weekend, he became the first Dynamo player to hit a four-game goal-scoring streak. Although the goals are the end product of his excellent play, the strength of his game this season has been more than scoring. On Saturday, he was all over the field, combining with players and making promising runs to open up space.
Torres himself is hesitant to focus on his own success so far, turning questions of his stellar performances into answers about the team working together. But through the first five weeks of this MLS season, Cubo’s individual quality has been on full display.
One of the talking points for the Dynamo this season has been how well the attacking trio of Torres with Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis has clicked – but Quioto was injured this weekend and Elis, fresh off international duty, didn’t start on Saturday. That left Torres without his partners, and even then Torres was still a relentless, dangerous presence en route to three goals.
Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera previously coached Cubo Torres in 2013 and 2014 with Chivas USA.
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It’s a massive shift from Torres’ previous two seasons in Houston. Under then-coach Owen Coyle, Torres struggled with fitness, form and confidence. He scored zero goals and wasn’t considered starting material. While it appeared Torres’ own personal issues were getting in the way, it also seemed Coyle just didn’t know how to use the striker or bring the best out of him.
But Cubo is back to the form he enjoyed back in 2014 that made him so sought-after. It was that year with Chivas USA that he scored 15 goals and broke into the Mexican national team. He looked like he was on the verge of becoming a star, both in MLS and for Mexico. But as soon as he left the confines of Chivas USA, everything seemed to unravel and he hasn’t been back with the Mexican team since 2015.
Now, Torres is back to his best self. He’s on top of MLS’s goal scoring chart and a Mexico call could be around the corner. With the Gold Cup presenting El Tri boss Juan Carlos Osorio a chance to take a look at new players, Torres could get a shot, and it would come just a year before the World Cup to boot. Torres might be a star after all, which no one would have predicted even a month ago.
Comparing how he looks now to his previous two years, it’s almost as if he is another player completely. But Torres has seemingly rediscovered his comfort zone on the field and Cabrera sure seems to know how to bring it out of him.
“I know him, of course, I know him from that time (with Chivas USA) and I know how good he is as a player,” Cabrera said. “I think that is going to help him to continue feeling that he is a good player – he can score goals and he’s proven himself.”
It’s a long season and Torres, quick to temper expectations around his explosive start, noted that the Dynamo still have 30 more games to go. But it’s difficult not to be excited about his start – six goals in just four games speaks for itself, and it looks like the old Cubo is back.