Featured / MLS

Adu and RoTo: Dynamic duo or all flash no flow?

Featured image: Paul Rudderow

When Freddy Adu joined the Union, Roger Torres must have wondered if he would get relegated to starring in reserve matches for the rest of the season. Fortunately, the Union’s most improved young player has found the minutes plentiful in recent weeks and has played some of the best soccer of his Union career.

Freddy Adu, on the other hand, has yet to settle in.

Paired together against New England, Torres and Adu played like they were unaware the other was on the pitch. Both players checked into similar spaces and ended up as passive observers until New England sat back and offered acres of space to the playmaking duo in the second half.

After they both notched a goal against the Revs, the coaching staff gave them a second chance when Portland came to town. Leaving the second forty-five against New England aside, the Union played their best soccer in quite some time against the Timbers. Did Torres and Adu have anything to do with that?

OPTA only credited the Union with three shots on goal against Portland, all of them by Danny Mwanga. The first shot on net came in the second minute. It was a tame, deflected effort that Troy Perkins handled easily. In the image below, Mwanga prepares to shoot while Freddy Adu drifts towards the box and Le Toux and Paunovic charge in from the right. Roger Torres is behind Mwanga on the right of the screen.

Good interplay between Adu and Michael Farfan created this opportunity, and it was one of many instances where Adu’s instinctual decisions were far better than his over-thought dribble-heavy ones. This scenario is representative of how Adu and Torres would find themselves most of the night. While Adu pushed forward and sought to fill the theoretical space (more on that later) between the midfield and forward lines, Torres remained deeper, taking balls from Brian Carroll and looking over the top or playing short to Sheanon Williams, Adu and Paunovic.

The issue with this setup is, with Adu pushing high and central, Torres sitting in and Brian Carroll falling back even deeper, the Union have very little width. Sebastien Le Toux is no real winger. His goal is to get into the box as fast as he can once the Union cross the halfway line.

All of this adds up to either a lot of vertical balls or our next example.

Here, Freddy Adu has the ball just outside of the final third as Tom Cruise, Iceman and Goose Torres, Mwanga and Le Toux sprint towards the box in formation. Once again, the Union have poor spacing and are relying on their outside backs for width. But without Torres in support, there is nowhere for Adu to go but forward. The basic axiom of soccer—create triangles—is impossible here. Where is Adu’s outlet, aside from straight backwards to Brian Carroll?

This has been a persistent problem for the Union this season: When they get the ball, it’s like they all have a Le Toux mindset. Forward, we go! Now, there is no problem if Le Toux wants to look for that ball over the top. But everyone?

With Adu and Torres on the pitch, the Union have the skill in midfield to hold possession and move the defense around, creating the lanes that allow for moments like this:

Here we see Roger Torres preparing to play a gorgeous lob into the path of Sebastien Le Toux. Seba would take it on his chest and pull it wide, but it was quite the opportunity.

Once again, Torres is a bit deeper than Adu in a distributive role. Danny Mwanga has pulled out wide after making a run around Sheanon Williams. Mwanga’s move to the wing leaves him too far from goal, but if nobody else is going to do it…

Stepping into the space Mwanga leaves behind, Paunovic wants a ball in to feet. Off-screen, Le Toux is crashing the box through the gap left by the movement of the strikers. And Freddy Adu should follow Le Toux and pick up any loose ends.

To conclude, the Adu-Torres partnership has potential but it requires more width. Adu picked out Michael Farfan once, but in general the duo in the middle found few outlets that weren’t straight ahead. Spreading the ball wide will allow Torres to check in and receive the ball without a defense already set up in front of him. Adu can find pockets in front of Torres and, voila, an offense with options!


  1. I think to be fair, if the problem is width, shouldn’t we focus more on our wingers than instead of a central midfielder and central midfielder being played out of position on the left?

    You said it yourself, Le Toux is not a winger. In fact, I think he deserves to partner up top with Mwanga. Then put Daniel/Farfan on that side.

    That doesn’t fix Adu however. He simply is a midfielder and should play as one. Maybe the solution is to play a 4-1-4-1. Carrol as the defensive mid and this allows Adu/Torres to control play in the middle. Farfan/Daniel on the wings and Le Toux up top.

    The problem is right now Nowak is playing wingers that are simply out of position. But what else is new?

  2. If the problem is width, shouldn’t our coach have addressed the problem by now? How many weeks in are we and we still don’t have consistency?

  3. Phil McCrack'n says:

    I think that Torres has a tendency to always go for the through ball instead of sometimes just making the logical, easier pass to retain possession. I’ve seen both Mapp and Adu get frustrated with him when he goes with this route.

    For example, in your last pic, if he plays to Paunovic’s feet, he can either turn to attack or lay off to Adu who is in a great position with lots of options in front of him. Now, Torres played a great ball into LeToux which generated a chance, but it was a very difficult one for Seba to convert.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but Torres’s style is still more suited to a late game sub role in my opinion.

    Great post, BTW.

    • Matthew Ross says:

      Torres makes those through balls be he can. He has the skill to thread a needle give someone a great oppertunity. Those passes won’t always get through, but Roger should keep pushing it.

      • My feelings on Torres are summed up pretty well by Mikel Arteta in his recent FourFourTwo interview. “Mikel: The worst thing to do is start forcing it. Play your natural game; don’t put pressure on yourself to make that final pass. Other players in the team can do it too.”

        When Torres starts to live by that adage he will elevate his game to a new level.

      • This is true but I don’t think Torres is at that point. Seriously, he is still 19. It’s not “Stop forcing it Torres!” yet, it’s more like “He’s really young and still needs to learn.”
        And since we are all happy to point out his flaws, I still haven’t seen any mention on how he has been tracking back more and even won the ball back a few times.
        Though the bottom line is simply we need someone with Torres skill and vision. Forcing passes or not, he has South American vision, ball skills, and passing skills. He needs to learn to use them the right way or else we might as well play bruteball like Colorado.

      • Adu has all of those skills too and has shown them at a higher level than roger torres (against Mexico). He is the player who can take the union to that next level, but only as a central attacking midfielder given the responsibility to dictate the game, take free kicks, and be that real 10. You are paying him a ton of money, build the offense around him.

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