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Oct 11, 2008

Torres impresses in debut for U.S.

WASHINGTON -- After spending less than a week training with his new teammates, nobody could have blamed Jose Francisco Torres if he didn't look entirely comfortable in his United States national team debut.

But from the moment Torres stepped onto the lush grass at RFK Stadium in the 68th minute of the U.S. national team's comprehensive 6-1 shellacking of Cuba on Saturday night, the 20-year-old Mexican-American midfielder from Longview, Texas appeared to fit right in.

"I think I went on the field with a lot of confidence, and that came from the coach. I had a great time," said Torres after playing in the win that secured Bob Bradley's team a spot in next year's final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Perhaps lost in all the hoopla surrounding Torres' decision to perform internationally for the United States rather than Mexico, is the fact that the U.S. team has landed a poised, promising and uniquely experienced young player.

After all, Torres, who turns 21 on Oct. 29, sees regular minutes with his Mexican team Pachuca, arguably the best club in the region over the last few years (not to mention CONCACAF's lone rep in this December's FIFA Club World Cup).

So it shouldn't be surprising that against Cuba his passing was simple and crisp, and that he didn't hesitate to crack a wicked shot just over the Cuban goal about a dozen minutes after entering the match.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Wednesday
Hasely Crawford Stadium; Port of Spain, Trinidad
8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Of course, the game had long since been decided at that point; the Americans were up by three goals and a man after Cuban defender Yoel Colome had been sent off four minutes before halftime.

Still, even before he took the field, it was clear Torres had already earned a measure of respect from the U.S. veterans. Both defender Oguchi Onyewu and U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra went out of their way to shake Torres' hand when he entered the field while U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who relentlessly recruited and eventually swayed him to join the American team, stood and clapped in his luxury box.

Said coach Bradley afterward: "It was a really good first week for him, and excellent to get him on the field tonight. We're very pleased to have him with our team."

"He's definitely a good player and we're really excited that he came in and meshed in the group really well," said midfielder Michael Bradley. "He seems like a good guy, so I think across the board it was good."

Keeper Tim Howard agreed, albeit cautiously. "He's young, and it's early. But from what we've seen, we've liked his willingness, like tonight, to defend, and in training his willingness to track back and do the dirty work," Howard said. "That's really good."

U.S. fans, on the other hand, are surely more excited about what Torres can contribute to an attack that had basically been impotent before breaking out over the last two games.

Of course, no country can have too many skillful players. And while the U.S. seems to produce a disproportionate number of left-footed midfielders -- DaMarcus Beasley, Freddy Adu, the oft-injured Bobby Convey and Columbus Crew standout Robbie Rogers are all waiting in the wings -- Torres is a welcome addition to the group.

Maybe it was sheer coincidence that Beasley, with two goals and a helper off a set piece, had his best game for the Yanks in ages on Saturday night. But it certainly can't hurt to have another competent left-sided player pushing him in practice as qualifying continues in the run-up to South Africa 2010.

Torres might also give coach Bob Bradley more options as he becomes fully integrated with the squad; the youngster replaced left back Heath Pearce but was deployed in the midfield with Beasley moving back into Pearce's spot.

But while everyone agrees that getting Torres to commit his international future to the U.S. is a huge coup in light of defections by other talented dual nationals like Giuseppe Rossi (Italy) and Edgar Castillo (Mexico), there is no denying that Torres still has plenty of work ahead of him to become a regular with the red, white and blue.

"He's just like anyone else," said Landon Donovan. "He has to earn his spot."

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.

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