[USA 23] Remember that celebratory dance pairing up Clint Dempsey and Jose Francisco Torres after Dempsey scored the winning goal against Turkey in a 2-1 win Saturday in Philadelphia? As it turns out, there's a closer connection between them than Texas roots, a penchant for flair, and post-goal dance moves.
Every day in South Africa, a few U.S. players are trotted out for press conferences, and Wednesday Torres took a place at the table between Jonathan Spector and DaMarcus Beasley. The synergy injected by Torres and several other subs enabled the USA to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Turkey and pull out a win in its final send-off match before leaving for South Africa.
When asked about Dempsey, Torres replied, “Well, he’s a bit older than me. He played against an uncle that I have back in Texas, they played against each other in high school. I look up to him a lot, he’s a great player and he’s done a lot in the past few years.”
Longview, Texas, where Torres grew up, is just 65 miles north of Dempsey’s home town, Nacogdoches.
“I’ve talked to him about this being my first World Cup and ask him about his first one, and every day I learn different things from him,” said Torres.
Comparisons to Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos are inevitable, though neither is Mexican and Ramos wasn’t born in the United States. Skilled enough to hit a variety of passes, shots and serves, and strong enough to shrug off a tackle, Reyna and Ramos brightened U.S. midfields with flair and vision most of their teammates weren’t capable of.
Dempsey plays a somewhat Latino game, a product of playing in heavily Hispanic leagues when he wasn’t being ferried by his parents to train with the Dallas Texans club team. Landon Donovan credits his Hispanic teammates and opponents for much of his guile and flair.
Scouts from Mexican club Pachuca spotted Torres while he was in high school. Dempsey went to college (Furman), Donovan headed to Germany (Bayer Leverkusen), and Torres crossed the border into Mexico to start a pro career in his late teens.
Bradley called Torres into the U.S. squad after he’d turned down an opportunity to join the U.S. Olympic team prior to the 2008 Summer Games. He broke into the starting lineup at Pachuca and didn’t want to jeopardize his place.
As the son of a Mexican father and American mother, he had a choice to make. When the USA called again after the Olympics, after he’d asked for advice from his teammates about whether he should wait for a call from Mexico, Torres signed up.
After Torres debuted for the USA against Cuba and made his first start against Trinidad & Tobago four days later in October, 2008, the coach said to si.com, "In the two games that he's played, he has shown that he has a good way get into open spots to get the ball. He's a simple player as far as seeing the next play and making the right pass.”
So rich with attacking players is Pachuca that Torres usually plays a fairly conservative role, supporting attacks and linking the back line to the forwards with timely dribbles and sharp passes. In his early U.S. stints, what he wasn’t doing was clogging up passing lanes and getting into tackles.
Bradley took a lot of heat for removing Torres at halftime of a Hexagonal qualifier last year against Costa Rica with the USA trailing, 2-0. While he showed good touch and vision, Torres couldn’t break up plays or win the ball, and spent the second half on the bench. He didn’t play three days later in a 2-1 victory over Honduras, and though he went to South Africa for the Confederations Cup he didn’t get into a game. He wasn’t selected for the Gold Cup.
His tenacity and positional acumen had increased sharply by last October, when Bradley inserted him into the final Hexagonal qualifier at RFK in the 63rd minute with the U.S. trailing Costa Rica, 2-0. Torres won tackles and intercepted passes in his own half, and regularly pushed the ball upfield as the U.S. battled back to get within a goal, and then scored a stunning stoppage-time equalizer.
He fulfilled much the same role Saturday against Turkey. Said Bradley after the match, “Similar to the second half against Costa Rica, at that point when you’re behind, we’re pushing Michael [Bradley] to be more active and more mobile and the understanding between the two was good. I thought Jose really played well and was sharp, found the right people and covered all the holes really well . ”
Son Michael concurred. “I think he came on at a time when we needed to get the ball in play and move,” he said. “I think he comes on and finds a good rhythm and is able to connect things at a quick tempo and at the same time then allow me to be a little bit more mobile, a little more dynamic and find some spots forward.”
His use off the bench might indicate Torres’ role at the World Cup will be as a sub, and offensive catalyst. Yet the rounding of his game since being substituted nearly a year ago could pay off in more extensive duty, as his place within the squad is not only assured, but welcomed by his teammates.
“I've started to gain a lot more confidence and I feel good,” he said at the press conference Wednesday. “I feel good about my teammates and every day I'm learning something from them. We have a great group of guys and we all get along."