WHEN I THINK of Roger Torres' predicament, this quote comes to mind.
"Sometimes we must get hurt in order to grow, fail in order to know, sometimes visions clear only after eyes are washed with tears."
I'm not sure who said it, but if only that person knew how much those words apply to the injured Union midfielder at this moment.
For the next 5 to 7 weeks, Torres must watch his club's progress from the sideline as he recovers from a torn meniscus in his left knee. A picture taken of him this week showed him in the stands at PPL Park as he watched the Union reserves take on Columbus. The sadness in his eyes was evident as he wished he was on that pitch, doing what he could to thwart what amounted to a 4-0 loss for the Union. It was in a match just like this one the previous Monday that Torres was hurt, after he was tripped up and landed hard on his knee, shredding the vital fibers that helped make Torres a stud in his brief minutes on the pitch.
Brief best describes Torres' career since he joined the Union on loan from Colombia's America de Cali in 2010. Although he has started a handful of matches, Torres has always been that second-half super sub who enters and provides a spark.
"It's hard for me [to have to sit and watch]. This is my love, you know," Torres told the Daily News sans translator on Thursday. The one thing he has worked to perfect is his English, which has drastically improved since the days he needed a translator to answer even the most basic question. "To not have a chance to play, it's tough, I was working so hard to get more time [on the field]."
The Union technical staff has a lot of faith in Torres. It's why the front office secured and beefed up his already six-figure contract in the offseason. One coach recently told me he firmly believes the Union has, in Torres, "one of the best and creative attacking midfielders in MLS," before adding, "that we continue to wait for."
That would seem to indicate that the only one holding back Roger Torres is Roger Torres. Now you might think that, because he's a smaller guy in a physical league, perhaps his size stunts his development, but he'll be the first to tell you it's not. I brought that up to him after he scored the game-winner against New York at PPL Park last season and - in part, taking offense to the notion - Torres explained that players such as Barcelona's Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi are also short and do just fine, the latter arguably the world's best player.
So that means whatever is holding him back must be mental. And if that is the case, the Union won't hand over the keys to their brand-new Mercedes in center midfield since Torres has shown numerous times he isn't ready.
This injury comes at the perfect time. This is Torres' reflection period. He knows it, and from what he told me, he will embrace it.
"I want to be there to help my teammates not just with a little bit of time left in the game," Torres said. "I think everything is going to be [back to normal with my injury] faster, and I am doing all the things the doctor tells me. When I come back, I am going to be faster and fit, because I want to be on the field as long as I can. This is my love, and I feel like it is taken away, and I can't wait to get [it] back."
THE TRUTH ABOUT KAI
Kai Herdling, 27, became the newest member of the Union on Monday. On loan from TSG Hoffenheim through June 30, with an option to stay the rest of the season, Herdling is a temporary replacement for the loss of Torres. But Union boss Peter Nowak further explained that acquiring Herdling also had to do more with players leaving the club for impending international callups, most notably midfielder Gabriel Gomez, the current captain of Panama's national team.
But there are pros and cons about Herdling.
Among the pros is that, in his time as a professional, he has proved to be a playmaker and a goal scorer. Herdling scored 68 goals in 101 appearances over a 9-year, on-again, off-again span with Hoffenheim's second division, and was its captain as well. Nowak expressed that, with the Union, Herdling will be that attacking presence in the midfield playing behind the strikers.
"Kai will be missed heavily, especially as a leader," Hoffenheim II manager Frank Kramer said on the club's website. "But we also respect his wish and want him given a chance without putting obstacles in his way."
Now if you read into that quote as much as I have, this sounds like a case of a disgruntled forward (mind you, who has played only one match for Hoffenheim's A side) looking for a fresh start in MLS. If that's the case, then the Herdling experiment will go one of two ways: He'll adapt to the American game quickly and the Union will have found the cure for its scoring woes. Or the club will have another Eduardo Coudet situation on its hands, in which initial flashes of brilliance fade like Halley's Comet.
ODDS AND ENDLINES
MLS announced Wednesday that its player rating system, the Castrol Index, will be updated weekly, instead of monthly. The technology that analyzes and ranks player performance based on their movement on the pitch can be found on MLSSoccer.com . . .
The Union announced Wednesday that its Mother's Day match against New York was bumped up to 12:30 from its original 1:30 slot on ESPN2. Season ticketholders can submit photos of their moms to be displayed on PPL Park's video board at halftime. Send photos to fanservices @philadelphiaunion.com . . .
Tuesday is the second annual Team Dinner at Fogo de Chao (13th and Chestnut), where, for $100, fans can spend an evening with Union players while dining on choice cuts. The night benefits Autism Awareness and treatment of Asperger's syndrome. For more information, go to www.teamdinnerfoundation.org.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Union (1-3-1, four points) at Chivas USA (3-3-0, nine points)
When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: The Comcast Network
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: Chivas has hit its stride as of late, coming off a pair of road wins against Portland and Toronto FC. However, the Goats are still looking for their first home win of the season . . . Chivas will be without star forward Juan Pablo Angel, who has missed the last five matches with a concussion. Filling the void will be former Union forward Alejandro Moreno and possibly the debut of Jose Erick Correa. Taking a page from the Union's guide to scouting foreign talent, Chivas visited the 19-year-old Colombian and enticed him to try out. Correa was one of the leading scorers in Colombia's first division this season with six goals in 12 matches. Correa's spot in the starting lineup on Saturday night depends on the finalization of his visa and other paperwork . . . The player to watch is Chivas midfielder Ryan Smith, who has a pair of assists. He is among the team leaders in shots (six) and shots on goal (three) . . . Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy has been tough of late. His clean sheet over Toronto FC last Saturday earned him MLS Player of the Week honors, making him the first goalkeeper to win the award. Kennedy boasts an 0.67 goals against average allowing just four goals on 29 shots.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Out for the Union: Krystian Witkowski, FW (concussion); Roger Torres, MF (left knee menisectomy/MCL sprain/tibial contusion)
Questionable: Danny Califf, D (left hamstring strain)
Probable: Sheanon Williams, D (lip laceration); Carlos Valdes, D (right calf strain)
Out for Chivas USA: Marvin Iraheta, MF (left knee ACL)
Questionable: Pete Vagenas, MF (rib contusion); Juan Pablo Angel, FW (concussion symptoms)