July 27, 2013 Updated: July 28, 2013 at 8:18 am
COMMERCE CITY - On Sunday afternoon, it will be Gabriel Torres vs. the United States in the nationally televised Gold Cup soccer final. This is an exaggeration, but only a slight one.
Torres is Panama's lone hope for an upset against an attacking, entertaining and dominating American team.
Here's the catch, and it's a good one:
Torres is on his way to Colorado to join the Rapids. He's expected to be signed Monday as the franchise's first designated player. Many MLS teams use the designated player exception to the salary cap to sign fading soccer celebrities looking for final paychecks in America.
The Rapids are taking a better route. They're signing a flashy 24-year-old on the edge of his prime. Torres could lift the Rapids from MLS middle-of-the-pack to the pinnacle.
This is a sensible yet brilliant move. Torres once ranked among the world's most promising teens, earning a tryout with powerhouse Manchester United. He's struggled with injury and lost his way, ending up in a league this season in Venezuela. That's a long way from Old Trafford, the mythic home of Man U.
But in the past month, Torres has scored five goals for Panama, and led his country to a surprising victory over Mexico in the Gold Cup semifinal. He's a sneaky, imaginative, explosive scorer. For American soccer freaks - and there are millions out there - he's become one of the world's most intriguing talents.
Rapids technical director (translation: general manager) Paul Bravo struggled, and often failed, to contain his jubilation during halftime of his team's 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Bravo cannot officially confirm the Torres signing, which is the worst-kept secret in North American soccer.
But he talked about Torres anyway.
"He scores goals," said Bravo, a former Rapids star. "That's the biggest thing that we've noticed."
Each of Torres' Gold Cup goals has added a big chunk of cash to his future Rapids paychecks.
"He's at the tip of everybody's tongue," Bravo said.
The Rapids could enjoy an ad campaign Sunday afternoon when Torres and the Panamanians battle Landon Donovan and the American soccer team. The United States is on a roll after winning 10 straight games and almost certainly will boost the streak to 11.
Bravo, of course, is rooting for the Americans. But if Torres scores a couple goals in a gallant losing effort? Bravo smiled at that thought.
Saturday's game offered a look at the wisdom of the Rapids upcoming Torres move. The Galaxy have taken the creaky celebrity route and grown into the marquee team of the MLS. Los Angeles has won the last two MLS titles.
But the Galaxy strategy has flaws. Galaxy star Robbie Keane, a former international superstar, missed the game. He stayed home with his aching hip. This makes sense. Keane just turned 33. He's an old man by soccer standards.
The Rapids performed superbly, but played in front of several thousand empty seats. Colorado fans knew Donovan, another Galaxy star, would not make this trip. The smallish crowd exposed, once again, the thin nature of the Rapids support.
Torres will help strengthen the bond. Bravo and the Rapids have been building a young, swift, bold team that is designed to score goals and sell tickets.
Sunday, Torres will battle, most likely in vain, to lift his Panamanian teammates over the United States.
Stay tuned. Torres could be playing for the Rapids as early as Saturday in a home match against Salt Lake.