TORONTO – After welcoming Major League Soccer’s newest star to town, Toronto FC face another stiff challenge this week when they’ll be tasked with stopping the league’s top scorer.
Last week, the Reds largely neutralized German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who debuted with the Chicago Fire earlier in the month, en route to a convincing 3-1 home win. This Friday, the Houston Dynamo pay a visit to BMO Field with Mexican striker Erick Torres riding an incredible hot streak.
Nicknamed El Cubo, – The Cube – Torres leads MLS in scoring in 2017, with seven goals in seven games. Incredibly, the Mexican livewire’s seven goals have come on nine shots on target, and he’s averaging a goal every 83 minutes, a conversation rate that would be the envy of any striker in the world.
Torres appears to be making up for lost time. He went goalless for Houston over the course of the last two MLS campaigns, as he split time between the Dynamo and loan stints with Mexican clubs Guadalajara and Cruz Azul.
After two uneventful years with Houston, Torres is in the form of his life, and maybe a lot of it has to do with Wilmer Cabrera, who was appointed Dynamo coach at the end of 2016.
Torres’ first stint in MLS, with Chivas USA from 2013-14, saw him bag 22 goals for the Goats. He netted 15 goals in 2014, when Cabrera was in charge of the club, earning an MLS all-star nomination in the process.
TFC coach Greg Vanney isn’t surprised that Torres has hit the ground running this year, and feels he’s benefited from Cabrera’s influence.
“There was a stretch at Chivas where I thought he showed he could score some goals in this league. From what I’ve known of him in the past, it was getting him in the right mindset, being a professional every day, showing up and doing the things that you have to do to be successful week in and week out,” Vanney offered.
“We’ve known he’s been capable of scoring, he’s done it before, and sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time with the right coach in the right system and getting a rhythm going as a goal scorer. It’s not surprising, and he’s a guy we’ll have to keep an eye on [Friday].”
The person who’ll be charged with keeping an eye on Torres and organizing the Reds’ three-man defence is Nick Hagglund. It’s a big assignment for the TFC defender, but he has a firm handle on what he needs to do to stop the Mexican.
“As soon as he gets into the 18-yard box it’s my job to find where he is, lock him up and make sure he doesn’t get an inch of space,” Hagglund said.
It’s not just about locking up Torres, though.
Newcomer Romell Quito has offered Houston a great deal of speed down the wing since joining the club this season, and he’s chipped in with three goals. Fellow Honduras international Alberth Elis, who also joined the Dynamo this season, has scored three times and added an assist.
They’ve added speed to the Dynamo’s transition game, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by TFC captain Michael Bradley, who faced both players in a recent World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Honduras.
“Obviously when you look at Houston, their ability to [counter] has been very good through the first part of the season. The two Hondurans, Quito and Elis, are very good players. … I know them well [from World Cup qualifying]. ‘Cubo’ Torres is off to a great start. They have a group that can punish if you if you’re not careful in transition,” Bradley warned.
NOTES: Toronto FC remains without defenders Drew Moor (irregular heartbeat) and Chris Mavinga (quad strain). Goalkeeper Clint Irwin (hamstring) is back, but likely won’t see any action against Houston… Friday marks the only meeting this season between TFC and the Dynamo. The teams played to a 1-1 draw in Texas last August… The Reds have just one win in their last five matches against Houston… With a 4-2-1 record, the Dynamo sit third in the Western Conference, and are coming off of 2-0 home win over the San Jose Earthquakes, its first clean sheet of the campaign… After the Houston game, TFC host Orlando City on May 3, before travelling to Seattle take on the Sounders on May 6 in a rematch of last season’s MLS Cup final.