It’s been slow going for Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres since moving to the Houston Dynamo. As he works to increase his fitness, game time has been limited to spot duty late in matches: 15 minutes here, 35 there.
A month into his Dynamo tenure, the Designated Player has been unable to make any immediate impact on the pitch.
Torres has been intentionally eased into the fold after not playing much on loan (at Chivas Guadalajara) and a lengthy wait to get to Houston. With 10 remaining games for the club to mount a run for the playoffs, he’s ready to start whenever the club pulls the trigger.
“I wouldn’t say too much nervous, I’m anxious to get that start,” said Torres, through a translator. “I’m maybe not ready for a full game yet, but when I keep playing longer and longer it’s a step towards a full game. Every time I go out there and play more minutes my confidence is growing. I’m ready to go. It’s just a matter of waiting for the coaching staff to go in and play a full game.”
That date remains up in the air, and Head coach Owen Coyle is in no rush to advance Torres’ workload. With Will Bruin and others carrying the scoring burden, there exists little urgency to force the striker into the game before it's necessary.
However, Coyle has said that Torres will start games. Torres feels he’s approaching that level, but his head coach isn’t pressured, instead waiting to incorporate Torres at the right time.
“It’s not that I’m trying to over-protect," Coyle said. "I’ve got to make sure that I think Erick’s ready to go and be starting games week-in-and-week-out. I’ve got to be fair to him. When strikers come in – I know this myself – you want to hit the ground running. You want to show your capabilities and be in prime condition to do that.
“Of course he’s a major signing at the club, and if circumstances had been different and he’d played at Chivas Guadalajara and come in as we expected, then he’d probably had hit the ground running. But we had to build him up. I think it’s fair to say he’s certainly getting closer to that happening.”
How close? And what does Torres need to display?
“The biggest thing for a striker is that natural sharpness in the box,” Coyle said. “What he’s known for is: he’s a goal scorer, but his all-around play is very good as well. It’s knowing when to bring him in and play, but it’s also knowing that when the chances fall he’ll have that natural sharpness that he’s always had to go and bury those chances.”
That involves more than fitness; the Dynamo boss knows Torres’ striking ability and crisp movements, which have been on display holding the ball up and off the ball, will evidence themselves with time on the field.
Yet in four games, Torres has played only 95 of 360 minutes, taken just two shots and has yet to convert.
“I don’t feel too bad about that. I really haven’t had a lot of chances,” Torres said. “There was a chance the first game, but it’s all about the opportunities and I just haven’t had the opportunities yet.”
While Torres seems unworried, there is pressure to score, which comes with carrying a high price tag. And he’ll have to produce if he's to become the building block envisioned by Dynamo management.
“For anybody that comes into the league midseason it’s tough, it’s an adjustment,” said Nathan Sturgis, who previously played alongside Torres at Chivas USA. “When I played with him at Chivas he was in good form and playing really well and scoring lots of goals. I think he’s trying to get back to that and I think he will, it just takes time.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.