The Mexico international is back to his best after two barren seasons in Houston, and his new coach is one of the primary reasons.
Erick “Cubo” Torres has seen quite a bit for a player so young.
He’s been a wonderkid at two teams on either side of the border, the youngest player on a U-20 World Cup squad, an Olympian, a senior international, a pariah and, most recently, a comeback story.
And he just turned 24 a few months ago.
The latest iteration of Torres has seen the Houston Dynamo striker take MLS by storm early in the 2017 campaign, much like he did when he scored 15 goals for Chivas USA in 2014 en route to an All-Star appearance and a first senior call-up for Mexico.
Since then, though, it’s hardly been smooth sailing.
After Chivas USA folded, the Houston Dynamo snapped up Torres with a designated player contract. Following a six-month loan to childhood club Chivas de Guadalajara, where he initially emerged as a teenage prodigy in 2010, Torres made his Houston debut in July 2015.
In his second MLS stint, the scoring touch and confidence that had defined Cubo’s first foray into the league vanished.
Under head coach Owen Coyle, Torres quickly became an afterthought despite his lofty reputation and massive contract. Lacking the trust of the Scotsman and later interim coach Wade Barrett after Coyle’s firing, Torres failed to score a single goal in 2015 and 2016, making a total of just seven starts in a season and a half.
Once a potential soccer icon on both sides of the border, Torres was at a crossroads at age 23.
“When you are not doing what makes you happy, when you are working hard but can’t see any results, it’s hard to go to the office or to work,” Torres told Goal through a translator.
“It was hard to go to practice knowing that even though I was doing the right things, when the weekend arrived I would stay on the bench or only play five to 10 minutes, just to start all over the following week.”
Heading into the 2017 season, Houston was looking for a coach that could turn around a moribund franchise and Torres was hoping for a second chance with the Dynamo.
Luckily for Houston and for Torres, Wilmer Cabrera was the Dynamo’s choice.
Cabrera had coached just one season in MLS before 2017 – Torres’ breakthrough 2014 campaign with Chivas USA.
Suddenly, the prospects for a comeback season improved dramatically for Torres.
“Wilmer already knew what type of player Erick was and Erick already knew how Wilmer manages on the field so there was a chemistry from years past,” Dynamo midfielder Alex told Goal through a translator.
“Erick has earned the coach’s trust. It wasn’t easy, Erick worked to earned that trust.”
It didn’t take long for Torres to demonstrate that 2017 was going to be nothing like the previous two seasons in Houston.
Torres scored his first Dynamo goal in week one. Then he scored the game after. And the game after that. In the following game, Cubo notched a hat trick against the Red Bulls.
Eight games into the season, Torres leads MLS with seven goals. The Dynamo, meanwhile, are in fourth place in the Western Conference after missing the postseason the past three seasons.
It’s not hard to see why Cabrera has earned the nickname “The Cubo Whisperer.”
“Wilmer Cabrera is a coach that understands the player,” Torres said. “He talks with me, I know what he wants on and off the field. Yet, what allows him to get the best out of me is that he has confidence in me.
“He’s one of the few coaches that has trusted me, that understands me and [whom] I understand. That’s what makes him so good. When someone makes you feel that you are good at your job, makes you feel valued, that makes you want to give your best.”
Cabrera isn’t just eliciting the best from Torres either. The former Colombia international has had a galvanizing effect on the Dynamo that the club has been missing in recent seasons.
“This year the team has something that maybe we were lacking in previous years,” Torres said. “The team responds well to their identity and knows the style of play we have.
“Before we had great players but we would lose and didn’t make the playoffs because the team didn’t work as a unit. Everyone was trying to do their own thing.”
Alex is another player thriving under Cabrera, as the Brazilian has four assists in his first eight games – equaling his previous assist total from five MLS seasons.
But it’s Torres who has benefited most from the new boss and Alex – one of Cubo’s closest friends on the team – has noticed the difference on the field and off.
“Erick has always been a good player, a goal scorer and now he’s doing great with a coach that has given him confidence,” he said.
“[Off] the field, he is happy, more at ease because he’s scoring and enjoying the good moment he’s having. I see a much happier Erick.”
With so much of his career still ahead of him, but so many differing experiences in his past, Torres has already learned plenty from his time in professional soccer.
“I have learned that you always have to keep moving forward,” Torres said. “I think it’s part of life to have hard times in order to learn and to value when you are back up.
“That’s what I have learned, to be a professional, to train every day at the same intensity. Sooner or later you will have the reward.”