Torres effect encouraging for USA

By Paul Gardner

"He's kind of a calming influence. I think we were too hectic on the ball in the first half and he kind of settled us a little bit when he got the ball, and it helped us a lot." That is Landon Donovan, talking about Jose Francisco Torres -- and in particular the effect that Torres had on the U.S. team when he subbed in for the second half of Saturday's game against Turkey.

If only that had been Coach Bob Bradley speaking. But, no. From Bradley we got the usual coaching banalities: “I thought Jose really played well and was sharp and found the right people and covered all the holes really well.” Even when he’s praising someone, Bradley’s comments make the guy sound more like a plumber than a soccer player.

Nevertheless, Bradley did praise Torres, and that is quite something. But it is Donovan’s comments that contain real soccer worth, rather than mere tactical small-talk.

Donovan lets it be known that “we were too hectic on the ball in the first half.” I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to notice this. Ideally, it should be a coach. It should be Bradley. Or it should have been Arena, or Sampson, or Bora, or Gansler. One of those guys should to have noticed, should have said something. None of them did. In the end it has to be a player -- and it has to be Donovan, now a player with the experience and the authority to point out something that the coach seems to have overlooked.

Dammit, of course the American midfield is too hectic. It always has been, for as long as I can remember. That’s the style that American soccer has been brought up on. Athletes in midfield, charging about for 90 minutes, full of energy and willingness to run through walls and ditches, preferably sweating profusely, maybe foaming at the mouth a little, and even a spatter of blood from a graze will help. College soccer, anyone?

Over the past three generations we have managed to find a player -- always either Hispanic or of Hispanic background -- to dump in the middle of this whirlwind to attempt to instill some sanity. Hugo Perez, then Tab Ramos, then Claudio Reyna. A thankless task for all three, but carried out with varying degrees of success. Soccer subtlety vs. athletic ability. It ought not to be “vs.” -- the two should combine, but that has rarely been the case.

Circumstances change. The problem now is slightly different. Bradley has two skillful midfielders (neither Hispanic, but both with considerable Hispanic experience when young) in Donovan and Clint Dempsey. A problem, because both players are equally as effective as forwards, possibly more so. If they keep moving forward, who can maintain a midfield presence behind them, one that controls the ball? Ricardo Clark? Maurice Edu? Michael Bradley? Forget it, these are players whose middle name is “Hectic.”

After watching Torres’ calming influence on the American midfield -- indeed, on the whole team -- against Turkey, it must surely occur, at last, to someone that the American midfield consistently tries to play at a speed that is beyond the technical abilities of its players. Inaccurate passes (take a look at Clark) and unnecessary fouls (see Bradley, M.) are the inevitable fruits of this fault.

Benny Feilhaber was very unfortunate to be trapped in this first-half madness, trying to make some soccer sense of frantic Clark and Bradley movement and some very fragile defending. His replacement by Torres altered everything. Why? This is what Torres has to say, talking about the change he senses when he switches from Mexican league soccer to the national team: “The pace of the game is always quicker, faster. So when I come in, in two or three days I've got to be right on target. I have to be fast on the ball, get the ball moving and make tackles.”

The problem with that analysis -- from Torres himself -- is that it does not correspond to the evidence of one’s eyes. Which was that Torres managed not to get swept up in the hectic action, that he did indeed stand out as Donovan’s “calming influence.”

There was an unhurried coolness about almost everything that Torres did. If there was an adjustment here, it surely was not that Torres was speeding up his play, but that he was successfully tempering the game around him so that there might now be a chance for something thoughtful to happen.

In short, the midfield began to play as the constructive force that it needs to be, with pace when necessary, but now with time for intelligence to play a role.

That ought to be what Bob Bradley wants. But one wonders. It has taken him quite a while to appreciate what Torres brings. Even now, there is absolutely no guarantee that Torres will even get on the field in South Africa. Bradley may still prefer the bigger, faster, stronger guys.

I hope not. To bolster my hope, I have to do a bit of imagining here. At the end of Saturday’s game, the TV camera followed a determined looking Bradley striding across the field, heading for ... I’m not certain, for the camera managed to cut away at the crucial moment. But it sure looked as though Bradley was heading toward Jose Torres. So I’ll assume he was, and I’ll assume that he was going to praise Torres. That would be nice -- so encouraging for Torres, for the USA ... and for Bob Bradley.

19 comments about "Torres effect encouraging for USA".
  1. Lloyd Elling, May 31, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.

    Thank you, Paul Gardner. Thank you, Landon Donovan. Thank you for seeing the obvious. Jose Torres is exactly the ball controlling player the USA midfield requires...the calming effect and decision making. Let's give Coach Bob Bradley credit for bringing Jose Torres to the US Soccer program. Mexico surely could have signed him and they failed to do so. I wish that Charlie Davies and Alejandro Bedoya were in South Africa with the US team (2014).

  2. John Munnell, May 31, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.

    I guess someone gets credit for bringing Torres in. But why so late? Torres' talents were evident the first time he stepped on the field in a US shirt. Like Paul, I can only hope that Bradley recognizes that Torres should be a standard part of the midfield going forward.

  3. Paul Lorinczi, May 31, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.

    Paul, I thought MB was everything?

    All your media colleagues give him the highest ratings for his performances. We don't need Torres, we have MB.

    I personally have been screaming for more Torres for the past year because of the qualities you outline in your article. He has more international experience in club competitions than his teammates who play in Europe. When BB took Torres out of the Costa Rica match and replaced him with Kljestian, it said a lot about BB.

    If BB does not use Torres in South Africa, he really should be fired following the World Cup. We are lucky to have a player of his talent on our team.

  4. Brent Crossland, May 31, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.

    Good column, Paul. I believe that the origins of this problem are somewhat deeper - starting with NFHS soccer in the US - and obviously many of our American coaches at all levels have this same mindset that "chaos is good". Michael Bradley has some real skills but he always plays at a pace that is just 'beyond' control. He could learn from Torres (as could others). Unfortunately you have to assume that the playing style of Bradley, M embodies what Bradley, B is looking for.

  5. Philippe Fontanelli, May 31, 2010 at 10:13 a.m.

    Paul Gardner is right again. I am also glad that someone else remembered the Costa Rican game when Torres was subbed.
    I have already mentioned several times the problem is Bradley the coach. He doesn't understands the game. One example; against Turkey he used Donovan and Dempsey in the wrong positions to make room for his son (nepotism). Micheal Bradley was pathetic especially in the first half. He is is a subpar perfomer at best. Besides Torres we should also have seen Buddle and even Gomez. Under Bradley the coach, I do not see this team going very far at this WC. It is a shame because there are some talented players but with a bad tactician. The Federation should have fired Bradley a long time ago and Gulati also. We need a complete rephasing of the team and the coaches.

  6. Walt Pericciuoli, May 31, 2010 at 11:12 a.m.

    Gardner is right again. Perhaps with Donovan speaking up, Bradley will listen. Torres should be the central part of our MF. We haven't had that MD dimension since the days of REYNA. M. Badley can and should fulfill the support role to Torres. I too would love to see Gomez in with Torres feeding him up top. You don't need to be too much of an expert to see the difference from the 1st half and the 2nd once Torres took over the game.

  7. Ric Jensen, May 31, 2010 at 12:30 p.m.

    How do you leave Brian Ching off the squad??? Seems like a big mistake!

  8. Gary Troy, May 31, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    Torres was definitely man of match v Turkey. Others deserved much praise, but all received benefit from Torres. Torres may be slight, but he made the tackles when necessary. If he is not on the field against England, US will be in trouble .

    Hey Brent: comment regarding NFHS is uncalled for. My HS teams are taught the game the right way. Given the constraints we are under I would put my squad up against any club team with the same level players for the knowledge of the game and our style of play

  9. Dragos Axinte, May 31, 2010 at 1:01 p.m.

    Excellent article and comments above. I think that the preference of athleticism over skill is a systemic issue, engulfing most professional and college soccer coaches in the USA. MLS also suffers from the problem described above. The good news is that we are not the only frustrated - the fans are feeling it, too, and it is becoming pretty obvious in stadia around the country. More so than Landon's comments, the fans' reactions should have an impact in changing coaching styles. Pardon me, I mean "in changing coaches." I don't think that style changes much in a coaching career.

  10. Thomas Sullivan, May 31, 2010 at 1:54 p.m.

    As usual, tip of the hat to Paul. M Bradley is not a bad ball player he just has clear limits and Torres compliments him well. In the broadcast, Harkes had to control himself from gushing about the impact that Torres had on the game. He pointed out the obvious (but so absent from the US midfield play) that Torres was "showing himself for the ball, he wants it." No one else does that with any regularity or the same quality of control and results in the US mid.

  11. Ted Westervelt, May 31, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.

    Did Bradley not notice that he didn't keep anyone else that could hold the ball up in any part of the pitch? In this environment, Jose Torres is unbelievably patient.

  12. Art Robles, May 31, 2010 at 2:50 p.m.

    It is frustrating to watch US games and see how reckless and thoughtless M Bradley is and not hear the appropriate analysis. Is there a gentlemanly understanding between Bradley and the US TV media to NOT criticize Junior? US soccer needs more players like Jose Torres.

  13. Joe d. Shaw, May 31, 2010 at 5:11 p.m.

    I am with you PG. I just don't know why Edgar Castillo is not in the team to offer a viable option as a left back. Torres is the stir for the drink.

  14. Brian Lee, May 31, 2010 at 7:39 p.m.

    One wonders what a second calm midfielder that plays a bit more advanced than Torres could do together with him...namely Freddy Adu. Not having these two integrated into the rotation long ago is a failure of US soccer. Primarily Gulati, and to a lesser extent Bradley, but I blame Bradley less, as he doesn't see the value of this level of skill...because he's never seen it. Him trying to figure out how to use both Adu and Torres on the field at the same time would be like sitting a Neanderthal down at a Grand Piano.

  15. mark swanson, May 31, 2010 at 8:01 p.m.


  16. Aris Protopapadakis, May 31, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.

    I heartily agree with Mr. Gardner on this one. The USA plays an awful lot of inaccurate balls, as if playing at speed is more important than playing with purpose.
    I often think the saem is true of Man U, who although they also far more skilled players, their haste often exceeds their abilities.
    Why isn't Barca emulated more often?

  17. Daniel Dextre, May 31, 2010 at 9:21 p.m.

    Great analysis, and that is exactly why the American player, specially in the midfield lacks, that kind of coolness to dictate and control the game.
    If Bradley or another coach is smart enough, he must let Torres to play the game, some players( like Maradona, El Pibe, George Best, ) are not cochable,because they are unpredictable, let them be and let them play, coach the runners, the dogs ( defensive midfielders) but they need to set free.
    Then America will be a powerful nation, when the creativity be unleashed.
    Mr. Gardner, this was a great article.
    I'm a former Sothamerican attacking midfielder and I can understand every single word of your message, hopefully the American Coach do as well.

  18. Richard Bzdek, May 31, 2010 at 10:29 p.m.

    Lia and the rest are right on. I've seen this at many levels of often it's 100% speed, off to the races, and they play so frantically, beyond their abilities, and don't accomplish much. It's also not fun to's like a basketball team that fast breaks every possession even if it's not there. Posess the ball and play with purpose.

  19. Philippe Fontanelli, June 1, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    Brian Lee, Bravo to you I feel the same, also look at my comments.
    Joe D. Shaw, thanks I was thinking the samething about Castillo, I just didn't remember his name. Only remembered the "hoopla" over a Latino player that is perfect at left back position.
    Anyway congrats to all, as you all agree that coah Bradley is an idiot and has no understanding of the beautiful game. Ladies and Gentlemen I am sad to say and predict that we are in trouble in SA with Bradley and the Bradleys.

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