Some like Bryan Reynolds have seemingly come out of nowhere – with little youth national team or first team MLS minutes to move to an elite Serie A club.
Luca de la Torre, however, took a harder and more difficult path and only now is it starting to payoff. When he was in his mid-teens he was scouted by Fulham while playing with U.S. youth national teams. While he learned a lot in England at the London-based club, he struggled to earn first-team minutes. Last season, de la Torre played out his contract with the London club and moved to Heracles Almelo in the Eredivisie.
After a period of adjustment, de la Torre began starting for Heracles but mostly playing as a left winger. But then after the New Year, de la Torre was moved to his preferred central midfield position and everything began to fall in place.“It's been really positive,” de la Torre said. “The first couple games, I didn't play much. I was getting used to it. Then I had a run of nine or 10 matches and I was playing on the left mostly. Now I've started playing in the midfield and it's a lot more of a natural position for me. I really enjoy it a lot. The team has been getting good results and I've been playing well. I still feel like every game I play, I am getting better. That's a great feeling.”
“When I was younger, I played in the middle,” he added. “When I moved to Fulham, I ended up pushed out wide because I think in England, they like bigger midfielders. I think I have more to offer in the middle. I can use both feet. I can cover the distance. I think at Heracles we have a style of play I think that is a really great thing. We're the team in the Eredivisie that brings high intensity, that defends really well, but that can also play soccer and hurt teams. Because we have that identity as a team, that is something we can get behind, for all the players. The manager brings that, so it's really positive.”
The 5-foot-10 De la Torre was especially sharp at the start of February in a 1-0 win over Fortuna Sittard and he backed it up the following week against Ajax. Despite losing 2-0, de la Torre was able to help Heracles control long stretches of play against the league leaders. Last weekend, however, de la Torre had what was likely the best game of his career in a 2-1 win over PEC Zwolle.
In that game, the San Diego native scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time when he headed home a cross from the left wing -- but the dramatic goal only tells part of how well he played. Over the course of 90 minutes, he had 101 touches ranging all over the midfield. He completed 74/83 of his passes. He was a perfect 4/4 on his passing attempts over 35 yards. He ended up leaving a massive footprint on the game.
• On Saturday (March 13), 10th place Heracles visits relegation battlers ADO Den Haag, which sits 17th in the 18-team league.
Everything has gone according to plan for de la Torre this year. Last summer, he realized that at age 22, he is no longer a young player in the modern game. Riding the bench in England or anywhere was not an option anymore. His next move needed to be the right one and he could ill-afford to go to a club and not fit in. Fortunately for the Southern Californian de la Torre, his Spanish passport was a huge help toward opening up the door to the Eredivisie and bypassing the high minimum salary requirements for non-EU players that often act as a deterrent to signing American players. De la Torre was drawn not just to the league, but specifically to Heracles that is a smaller club in the league but has an emphasis on development.
“Heracles is a club that develops players,” de la Torre explained. “It is the philosophy of the club. They play a style of soccer that attracts me -- as well as the general style in the Eredivisie. It's very attacking and very entertaining soccer, which is a great positive for me.”
De la Torre might not have had the path of Pulisic, Adams, or McKennie who were all first team starters in their teens and who have all played in the knockout stages of the Champions League but he serves as a reminder that, even in this age, players can still break through at 22 and become quality players.
Even more so, de la Torre is did not come out of nowhere. He is actually from the same age group of Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie. He was on the 2015 U.S. U-17 World Cup team with Adams and Pulisic – while McKennie was cut. He was also a crucial player for the USA at the 2017 U-20 World Cup where he scored an important stoppage time equalizer against Ecuador in the 3-3 group stage opener – after the U.S. team fell behind 2-0 early.
As a very experienced player at the youth national team level, de la Torre wants eagerly to return to the national team set up. His last appearance in a game came in 2018 when he earned his first and only cap so far in a 2-1 loss to Ireland in Dublin – at a time when the team was coached by Dave Sarachan.
His resume is far stronger now that he has become a key player for Heracles and U.S. Soccer has a lot of games coming up. Should the USA qualify for the Olympics, he is also eligible for the U.S. U-23 team this year as well.
De la Torre remains confident that he will eventually get back to playing for the United States, possibly as soon as later this month when the USA takes on Northern Ireland and Jamaica in a pair of friendlies in Europe.
“American fans are watching games and people that track American players that play for national teams. I think it's all been pretty positive,” de la Torre said. “The Olympics is in the summer -- which I am still eligible for. Then there is also the Nations League and the Gold Cup this summer. So, there are a lot of opportunities and I feel like I should be called up.
"Especially if I keep on performing in this way. The Eredivisie is a really good league. I am putting the performances in, so hopefully they're watching.”