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Second leg will center on Roman Torres for Sounders

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The Panamanian centerback will play a crucial role in Seattle’s hopes to advance past the Portland Timbers.

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — In the wake of Chad Marshall’s knee surgery Tuesday, Seattle’s playoff hopes will center around the defensive capabilities of centerback Roman Torres in Thursday’s second leg against the Portland Timbers. While Torres has fallen out of the starting XI for most of the 2018 season, he returns at a critical moment in Seattle’s hopes to thwart the Timbers and advance to the conference finals.

Torres replaced Marshall in the first leg of the playoff at Providence Park Nov. 4. At the time, it was not known how severe Marshall’s injury was, though head coach Brian Schmetzer revealed Tuesday that Marshall required surgery for an injury to his meniscus.

Now, it will fall to Torres, who has only started two of Seattle’s last 29 matches, to fit into the back line alongside Kim Kee-hee for the second leg.

“He told me he wanted to play,” Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said of an earlier conversation with Torres. “His play (Sunday) was indicative. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to Chad because he was a good teammate, but it’s his chance now to help the team win. Roman is a team guy. He wants the team to be successful. He loves it when he’s on the field helping the team be successful.

“That’s one of the reasons why we brought him here in the first place back in 2015. He was a big player and he has shown over the course of his time, he was such a big part of our success, that’s one of the reasons we signed him.”

The two-time reigning Latino del Año, Torres has seen plenty of big moments with the Sounders. None bigger than the penalty kick he converted against Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup to give the Sounders their first championship. Nevertheless, the defender found himself pushed to the side as Kim cemented himself as the primary option at centerback for the Sounders early in the season.

Still, Torres helped Seattle’s back line avoid further concessions after his introduction in the first half Sunday, despite the changes necessitated by his partnership with Kim compared to Marshall’s.

“For one, Kim has to move to the other position,” Frei said of the shift Wednesday. “It’s a little bit different. Chad plays more conservatively and drops back and keeps the play in front of him, Roman is maybe a bit more aggressive. Kim has been quite aggressive, he’s very athletic for his size. I thought when Roman came on (against Portland) we did well. I expected Portland to go for the kill, try to score two quick goals. Us losing two important players, it’s a great opportunity; if I was on that team I would have kept pushing for it. I sense they pushed for it, but we did quite well. That’s a testament to the guys who came off the bench, that we absorbed quite well.”

Schmetzer agreed that Torres’ arrival had helped stem the tide in the first leg.

“I enjoyed the fact that he came on and brought a bit of physicality to the game, in a good way,” Schmetzer said. “He won us headers. He knocked over (Jeremy Ebobisse). There were some good moments there. Certainly, that pairing (of Kim and Torres) hasn’t played a lot together. We’ll do what we can to get them in sync, but they’re two very talented players and Roman was waiting for his chance. Here it is. He’ll be ready.”