The 2024 Major League Soccer season is flying towards us at a blistering speed, and while the preseason days may be numbered, Orlando City finds itself making the final preparations for the upcoming campaign. The luxury that is afforded to Orlando City this season is that the majority of the question marks which existed on the roster have now been answered with moves to address needs that were created by off-season departures. Mix in the projected play of several veteran pieces at this point and fans will have a fairly good idea of what Orlando City will look like on the field.
With all that said, the true piece of the puzzle which will dictate the vast majority of the team’s early season offensive success will be the play of star winger Facundo Torres. The Uruguayan international is now entering his third year with the club, after he was initially signed back on Jan. 25 2022 at the ripe old age of 21. Torres has become a fan favorite for good reason, as he has been a team leader in the vast majority of offensive statistics the last two years.
There are two caveats to his game, however, which may frustrate casual observers and die-hard fans alike. First, there’s his reluctance to use his non-dominant, right foot, which at times has certainly resulted in missing goal-scoring opportunities and has made his patented cutback easily predictable for defenders. The second, which I will focus on here, may actually be the easier bug to squash — it has taken Torres time to truly get into his top form in each of his two previous MLS seasons.
In his first season with the club, Torres started slowly, with only three goals to his credit throughout the first five months of the season. An adjustment to MLS was to be expected and was a plausible reason for the slow start. It took all the way until July for Torres to truly blossom into the player he had been billed as, and in that month alone, Torres accounted for four goals, including two in the MLS regular season, one in the U.S. Open Cup match against the New York Red Bulls, and another in Orlando City’s friendly match against Premier League giants Arsenal. Over the final three months of the season, Torres netted seven goals, including a brace in the U.S. Open Cup Championship.
That late-season form propelled Torres to be named to the Uruguayan World Cup squad and generated a significant amount of hype heading into his sophomore season.
Unfortunately for Torres and Orlando City, the narrative for 2023 quickly began to resemble his first year with the team. After scoring on a penalty kick against the Red Bulls on opening day, Torres hit a dry spell that saw no goal or assist contributions over the next two months until he found the back of the net against the L.A. Galaxy on April 29. A goalless month of May again saw Torres heading into the summer stretch looking for his form. From June to October, however, Torres caught fire once again, peaking throughout the summer into the fall as he scored 12 goals over the final four months of the season, including two braces. While his total goal contributions from 2022 to 2023 were actually down by one, as he had tallied nine goals and 10 assists in his rookie campaign and 14 goals with four assists in 2023, something about the way that he finished the MLS regular season just felt different.
For my money there was no greater example of Torres reaching a new level of form than when he came off the bench late and down against the Columbus Crew and helped spark one of the best comeback victories in Orlando City history.
The video clip doesn’t even begin to capture how the momentum changed that night when Torres took the field. Not initially supposed to play in the match due to a knock, Torres scored in the 73rd minute and then his literal-heads up play (earning an assist by his effort to get the ball back in front of goal) led to the winning goal at the death.
Every player goes through strong runs of form and other matches that they simply need to forget and move past. For the 2024 Lions, Torres, no longer a rookie adjusting to the rigors of MLS, will have the weight of the club’s offense on his shoulders. He doesn’t necessarily need to put in an All-Star-caliber performance to start the year, but he does need to be special, which is something he has showcased many times before. He also has to contribute early and often in the way that his is capable of for the offense to have the success that it will need in an incredibly competitive Eastern Conference. Even when the ball doesn’t seem to be able to find the back of the net, it would be a nice cherry on top to see Torres’ assist tally improve from last season as he continues to involve his teammates.
I expect that Torres is capable of a great year, and not only do I expect it from him, the Orlando City attack in general will need to expect it of him weekly. To the fans out there, I say continue to simply enjoy his play while he is a Lion, because who really knows how much longer a talent like his may be in town?
Do you think Torres will be able to avoid as many big droughts as he has experienced in years past? Will he be the cornerstone of the offensive attack, or do you see another player leading the Lions this year? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, vamos Orlando!