Roman Torres brings Seattle Sounders together in MLS Cup final quest

Video via MLS: Wild Western first leg (1:33)

Watch reactions from both Seattle and Colorado after a roller-coaster first leg in the Western Conference finals. (1:33)

SEATTLE -- During the past three months, two distinct sides of Roman Torres have emerged. There is the imposing center back that is all business on the field for the Seattle Sounders. Then there is the laughing, dancing, ebullient character that teammate Stefan Frei calls "a big fluffy teddy bear."

When this is brought up to Torres himself, he lets out a gentle laugh, and fully admits that there are two sides to him.

"Of course, it's two different people," he told ESPN FC with the help of a translator. "When I'm playing the game I can't be laughing. I have to concentrate on the game. It's my job."

That job is one that Torres has performed well during the past few months, especially given the fact that he only returned in August from a major knee injury he sustained last year. And for all the attention that midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has had, Torres in his own way can be held up as another midseason addition that has been a huge benefit to the Sounders.

Torres is one-half of an excellent center back pairing with Chad Marshall, and in the past 10 games that the two have been on the field together, the Sounders have given up less than a goal per game. When asked what Torres has brought to the team since his return, it doesn't take long for manager Brian Schmetzer to come up with a list of the defender's best attributes; good in the air, a player who organizes things and is a danger on set pieces.

But talk to enough people around the Sounders' camp, and two words stand out: presence and leadership. Both can be tough to quantify, yet those descriptors are accurate when it comes to the 6-foot-2 defender. The mere suggestion of a tackle or aerial challenge from Torres can make the Sounders' penalty area a no-go zone.

"Torres is a guy that opponents look at and don't want to get too much into a scrum with him," Frei said. "He definitely has a presence about him that people respect."

From a leadership standpoint, Torres is the kind of player who can always feel the pulse of the team. If intensity is needed he can break out the kind of steely glare that demands focus. When it's time to celebrate, he's the first one to let loose, as evidenced by the videos of his post-victory dance routines.

Of course, the Sounders have had to wait a while to see these sides of Torres. Just four games after arriving during the 2015 summer transfer window, he sustained a horrific knee injury that GM Garth Lagerwey charitably described as "complicated." The Panamanian tore his ACL, his LCL and sustained cartilage damage as well.

"The first days after the operation were very difficult for me," Torres said, prior to last Tuesday's Western Conference final first leg win against Colorado. "But I never had a doubt. I knew that if I kept working hard I would be able to come back and play."

The time spent rehabilitating from an injury can amount to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind existence. It's just the player, his work and the desperate search for any sign of progress. Setbacks and steps forward can take on outsized importance. So can a supportive word from a teammate, the acknowledgement that the player hasn't been forgotten.

"For me [the contact] was important," Torres added. "I have a lot of teammates, it's like a family. That helped me a lot because I felt that backing of my teammates and the staff. That helped with my workouts and the recuperation."

That process can create a level of awkwardness as well, however. The defender is still part of the team, yet detached from the weekly duels that take place. Yet to hear Frei describe it, it's a fine line that Torres navigated with just the right touch; he was engaged without being overbearing.

"I've been through that situation myself in Toronto where it's difficult because you don't want to step on people's toes," Frei said. "You're out there, you're working your butt off, but you're doing your own thing. When things aren't going well for the team, you can't be the one going, 'Pick it up, you've got to bust your butt more,' when you're not actually the one out there leading as an example."

Now that Torres is back, his full personality and leadership abilities have come out.

"We felt like we didn't get a chance to know Roman as a person as much until we were able to get him back on the field," Lagerwey said. "Once we did that, now we have dancing in the locker room. He's such an infectious personality that he's a great part of our group and certainly has been real successful for us on the field."

Torres' leadership is such that it does more than just inspire his teammates or provide levity. Frei noted that every team has cliques, but Torres acts as a bridge to different parts of the locker room.

"We have Latinos that do their own thing, and we have the Europeans that do their own thing," he said. "Torres is one of the Latinos, but there is no divide there. There's no line that you can't cross. We're all a team, and having characters in those cliques -- because we do have them -- make them approachable, and it helps keep the team as one."

Torres insists he is almost back to his best, though he admits he's not quite there yet. That assessment proved prescient in the win against Colorado. Torres was burned by Shkelzen Gashi's dummy in the run-up to Colorado's goal, but was otherwise his usual steady and intimidating self.

"I'm just happy to be playing again," he said. "I'm happy to be with my friends and now we are enjoying the [playoffs] and we're hoping to win the Conference finals and the MLS Cup final."

It that comes to pass, fans will once again get to see both sides of him.