Roman Torres is not one of the Seattle Sounders' stars. He plays second fiddle to Nicolas Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Osvaldo Alonso. He probably doesn't even check in after those four. After all, he has spent most of his 16 months in Seattle sidelined by injury, but all it took was one match — and winning penalty kick — to make him a Sounders legend.
The Panamanian was a monster defensively in Saturday's MLS Cup final. He was dominant in the air, smart to read plays and cut them out early, and he even stepped up with some clutch last ditch defending — not to mention taking a shot off the face in the freezing cold. Torres did it all.
Defending is what Torres is supposed to, though. After all, he's a defender. But score the MLS Cup-winning penalty kick? That was not supposed to happen for Torres.
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That is, unless you ask Torres.
“He will tell you, if you ask him, that he was a forward growing up,” Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “We don't know if we believe that story, but he swears that he was a forward when he was growing up in Panama.”
Torres took his penalty like he was a forward. It was confident and drilled its way in. And when it hit the back of the net, the Sounders were MLS Cup champions.
Torres was just upset that he had to wait until the sixth shot to get his chance.
“Roman wanted to be one of the first five, but I didn't want to jinx ourselves and say 'OK, we have six, seven and eight.' We handed out the first five and then we were trying to signal onto the field, we were trying to go 2-9, 2-9 for Roman,” Schmetzer said. “And we got that message across and he was happy to step forward.”
To say it was a surprise that Torres made the game-winning penalty is an understatement, but that he was a key to the Sounders' success isn't.
When the Sounders' signed Torres last August, he was supposed to be their missing piece. Their defense needed help and with a dominant, experienced player to pair with Chad Marshall in the heart of the backline, Seattle would be impenetrable. And for a month, he lived up to the hype. The Sounders looked great and they started looking like the best team in the league, but then he tore his ACL. He was ruled out for nearly a year and Seattle fell short in the playoffs … again.
The Sounders' struggles in the first half of this season weren't just because Torres was out, but his absence certainly didn't help. And while Seattle started to turn things around a month before his return, they only got better when he played his first match in August. From that point on, with Torres rounding into form, they were rolling. Their defense was dominant.
That's how they found themselves in MLS Cup. It's how Torres found himself out-muscling Jozy Altidore, limiting Sebastian Giovinco and running the show from the back. It's also how Torres found himself with a penalty kick to win MLS Cup.
Torres got to show off his forward skills. And they're glad it went better than the previous day's practice.
“Actually Roman missed a PK yesterday,” Stefan Frei said afterward. “I'm glad he missed yesterday and not today.”
All of Seattle is glad he missed yesterday. And they're glad he was fit to play after so much time on the sideline, too.