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Is Gabriel Torres a 'False nine'?

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After hearing continued rumblings of using Gaby Torres as a false 9 among fans, today's Wave takes a look at the soccer world's newest hit tactic and why it's not such a great fit for Torres and the Rapids.

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Throughout this season there has been much talk centered around Gaby Torres and his role with the team. While the discussions range from innovative to ludicrous, one idea that continually pops up is Gaby Torres as a "false 9". While I praise the inventiveness of such a thought, the idea is flawed in its conception. Alas, I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about what the false 9 role is, as well as what Gaby Torres is not.

What is a "false 9"?

Let's begin with the basics. For those who are unfamiliar with the strategy of deploying a false 9 (or those who have only heard it when their friends talk about Messi), it is a tactic that requires a very unique type of player. Instead of playing the typical striker-type (i.e., big and tall or fast and clinical), it requires someone with impeccable vision, tremendous ball skills, and the ability to make the killer pass/shot at a moment's notice. In the simplest of terms, it's an attacking midfielder with finishing skills, but it's also so much more complicated than that. The false 9 also differs positionally from a tradition 9. Instead of playing deep in the opponents box, the false 9 drops into the midfield in an effort to draw the opposing center backs from their line. This allows the wing players to make darting runs into the area the center backs just vacated.

Although technically the false 9 role can be traced back to the 1930's, it has only recently become a mainstream strategy in the modern game. Though more teams have used the tactic sporadically, there are really only three teams who have deployed a false 9 consistently with success in the modern era. The first is Roma back in 2007 when they used Francisco Totti in this role. Then there was the tandem that made the false 9 a "household tactic"--Lionel Messi and Barcelona. Staying in Spain, the country's national team (full of Barcelona players but lacking Messi) played Cesc Fabregas as a false 9 occasionally before Diego Costa came along.

False 9 is not a position like "center back" or "attacking midfielder"

Now that you know what a false 9 is, let's talk about what it's not. Although we speak about it like it's one, the false 9 is not really a position--it's a tactic. For instance, we all know Lionel Messi plays a false 9 for Barcelona, but when we talk about type of player he is, no one says a false 9. He's simply a forward. There are some players who are set in a positional identity, while others are flexible. But while a player can be identified as a "right back", no one is specialized as a false 9.

The reason you continually see 4-2-3-1s and 4-4-2s in MLS--but never a false 9--is because, as mentioned above, it's not just a position. It's a formation that's difficult to master and requires a special type of player. The Rapids don't have that player or the time to learn the intricacies of the tactic. Thus, referring to the type of player Torres is and exclaiming, "He's a false 9!" neither makes sense nor is true. Which brings us to our final section...

Gaby Torres is not a false 9

Take a look at the players above who have succeeded in the false 9 role. Messi. Totti. Fabregas. These are players at the pinnacle of the sport. They each possess the very rare mixture of qualities needed in the false 9 AND, perhaps more importantly, the supporting players around them to make it work. Would you put Gaby Torres in with that crowd? Me either. And that's not because I think Gaby Torres isn't "good enough" to play as a false 9. He's just not that type of player. Go watch videos of when Torres was at his best with the Panama National Team. He flourished making intelligent runs off of a more physical striker in Blas Perez.

For whatever reason, Pablo Mastroeni has not placed any semblance of faith in Gaby Torres this season. I believe that needs to change not only because he's our DP (and why not use him?), but also because the Rapids need something to change fast. We have rarely (never?) seen Torres up top with the more physical Buddle this season. Yes, it means Deshorn Brown would have to play elsewhere on the field or ride the bench. But if it means getting the best out of arguably your best player? That's a risk worth taking.