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Posted: Monday January 12, 2009 12:56PM; Updated: Monday January 12, 2009 12:56PM
Andrea Canales Andrea Canales >
INSIDE SOCCER

Torres happy he chose Team USA

Story Highlights

José Francisco Torres one of two U.S. national-teamers playing for Mexican clubs

Torres helped Pachuca win InterLiga, earn berth in Copa Libertadores tournament

Eligible to play for the Mexican national team, Torres decided to stick with the U.S.

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U.S. national-teamer José Francisco Torres is headed to the Copa Libertadores qualifying round with his Mexican club team, Pachuca.
AP

CARSON, Calif. -- José Francisco Torres knew that if he chose badly, he'd cost Pachuca a win in the InterLiga finals and the chance at the prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament.

At 21, Torres was one of youngest players on the field Sunday night, but he had gone the distance for los Tuzos, who had subbed out celebrated playmaker Christian Giménez with what seemed like a safe lead in the closing minutes of the match. But Atlas, even while playing a man down, had improbably tied it 3-3.

Even more unexpected was that the ensuing penalty shootout would remain knotted until Torres came up to kick (nine shooters preceeded him). If he missed, an Atlas conversion would dash Pachuca's hopes.

Three coaches instrumental to Torres' career looked on as the pint-sized midfielder placed the ball on the spot. Pachuca's Enrique Meza had led the club to numerous titles and personally fostered the development of Torres. In a nearby suite sat Sven-Göran Eriksson, the Swedish coach of the Mexican national team, who had passed up every opportunity to call Torres up for Mexico. Also present in the stadium was Bob Bradley, the U.S. national team coach.

Torres wasn't thinking about any of them. "The only thing that was on my mind was to make it and keep going," Torres said. He shot the ball low and to the goalkeeper's left into the side netting, giving his team the lead. Then, Pachuca's goalkeeper and captain, Miguel Calero, became what Torres called the team's "angel" when he stopped an Atlas attempt and won the match. As a result, Torres and Pachuca are headed to the Libertadores qualifying round later this month, a spot in South America's grandest club tournament at stake in what is very rare territory for a young American.

After being discovered in Texas by Pachuca scouts while still in high school, the talented midfielder made the sacrifice to leave his family and join Pachuca's youth team. Then, as a Mexican-American, both national teams were possibilities.

"It was a hard decision," Torres acknowledged. "I made my career in Mexico and was born in the U.S." His first loyalty was to Pachuca, the club which had nurtured his game since he was a teenager, teaching him its silky-smooth possession style of passing. "We're a team," Torres said. "Whoever starts, whoever plays, we try to help each other out, support each other and I think we do a great job."

Indeed, what had first caught Bradley's attention was how well Torres was able to fit into a quality club like Pachuca. "Pachuca's strength as a team is that they are good with the ball," Bradley said. "Their ability to connect passes, play the ball, play off each other and move off the ball -- that's their trademark."

The opportunity to earn a starting spot with Pachuca was a factor in Torres turning down an invitation to join the U.S. Olympic team. He didn't expect a second offer from the U.S., but when it came, he turned to his club teammates for advice. They knew there had been no word from Eriksson, and they counseled Torres not to let the chance with his birth country pass him by.

"They told me to go ahead and play with the U.S. team," Torres said. "It was a good decision and I'm happy with it."

No one believed in the talent Torres had more than those who saw it regularly in training. "Francisco is a player with a great future," said Giménez. "He has developed impressively. Obviously, he's still young, but so many good things lie ahead of him."

Torres debuted with the Americans as a substitute in a World Cup qualifying win over Cuba, and made the first team for the next game against Trinidad and Tobago.

"We started working together well," Torres said of playing the U.S. team. "Hopefully, [Bradley] will call me in again and we'll get to know each other more."

Torres has a particular objective in mind for the near future: the next qualifying match for the U.S. on Feb. 11 against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. "I really want to go to Mexico game," the midfielder said. "It will be a great game between great rivals."

Though at one point Torres considered playing for Mexico, the sting of being passed over fueled his motivation even more.

"In soccer, there's a lot of revenge," Torres said. "They didn't call me in, Mexico, and I was hoping to be called in. Fortunately, Bob Bradley had been watching me since I'd been here [with Pachuca]. He took the chance and called me in and I got to play with the U.S. two games. I'm happy. I think I did a good job and now I've got to keep working."

The fact that Pachuca began the season early, participating in the Club World Cup and continuing on through InterLiga, works in Torres' favor, since he will be in form while MLS players have yet to begin their season.

"He's a player who is on the radar screen for that [Mexico] game," Bradley said. "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."

Any worry that the jitters of the big game might get to Torres could be quieted by his recent calm penalty kick conversion. He certainly wasn't intimidated by the idea that fans in Mexico could be upset by him playing for the U.S.

"That doesn't bother me a bit," Torres said. "I just want to play soccer."

Andrea Canales is chief editor of Goal.com USA.

 
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