Torres chooses U.S., might play vs. Cuba

October 11, 2008

WASHINGTON -- If Jose Francisco Torres plays for the United States on Saturday in a World Cup qualifier against Cuba, there will be no going back. He'll be committed to the U.S. team for life, having chosen the Americans over Mexico.

In Torres' mind, the decision has already been made. He's not planning to change his mind.

"I'm committed to the U.S. team, if I play or I don't play," Torres said Friday. "The U.S. has been good to me so far."

Torres was born in Texas to an American mother and a Mexican father, making him eligible to pick either country when he became good enough to warrant consideration as a national team player. The 20-year-old midfielder has made a name for himself south of the border, playing for famed Mexican club Pachuca.

U.S. officials began to take notice of his talent and this year tried to recruit Torres to play on the Olympic team in Beijing. He said no -- people were telling him he should wait for his chance with Mexico -- but he accepted the invitation to join the Americans this week as they prepared for Cuba and for Wednesday's match against Trinidad and Tobago.

"It's a hard decision," Torres said, "because I was born in the U.S., and the U.S. has been calling since the Olympic Games. In Mexico, that's where I made my career. Mexico's given me everything. They've made me the player I am now. It's my decision, I made it, and I'm happy with the decision I made."

Just to make sure Torres stays in the fold for good, coach Bob Bradley could be tempted to find a way to get the youngster on the field against the Cubans. The Americans are 3-0 in their semifinal group and virtually assured of advancing, while Cuba is 0-3.

Furthermore, Cuba might have a depleted roster, apparently the result of a pair of defections. The team's coach, Reinhold Fanz, told reporters Friday that two players have gone missing during the team's trip to Washington. The Washington Post identified the players as midfielder Pedro Faife, 24, and forward Reynier Alcantara, 26.

No so fast, says Bradley. A win will clinch a spot in the final round. It's not time to start experimenting just yet.

"Our thought process for this game is that a win guarantees our place in the next round," Bradley said. "We'll field our best team."

Bradley added that the circumstances of the game would dictate whether Torres or any of the other younger players enters as a substitute. If other words, a big second-half lead might give Torres his chance.

A more likely scenario, however, would have Torres making his debut at Trinidad and Tobago -- assuming all goes well on Saturday.

"First things first," Bradley said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but certainly the thought process of using [the next] games to motion other things along is there."

Torres has shown potential on the practice field this week, although he said he had some nerves at first.

"He seems like a very levelheaded kid," defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "Obviously you can see his abilities on the field. Good left foot, smart on plays. But you have to take your time sometimes and see how he progress and how he matures with the team in his career. The overall gist is to take your time and make him feel he's one of us."

Added Bradley: "The commitment that he made to be a part of our team is respected by everybody, and as a starting point you can see good qualities, especially in terms of his passing. He's a smart player."

Saturday's game also marks the return of the national team to one of its favorite venues. The U.S. men have won more games at RFK Stadium (10) than any other stadium in the world, but the arrival of major league baseball's Washington Nationals in 2005 played havoc with the field. An infield was created for baseball games, then patched over with grass for D.C. United's soccer games, an arrangement that left neither team completely satisfied.

The Nationals have moved on to a new ballpark, making RFK a soccer-only stadium -- and a suitable national team venue -- once again.

"It's exciting to come back and play a national team match here," Bradley said. "There's a history, a soccer history."

The games at RFK usually draw a good crowd, making for a vibrant atmosphere that makes up for the lack of modern amenities. The U.S. team's record at RFK is 10-3-4, the last game coming almost exactly four years ago -- Oct. 13, 2004 -- a 6-0 win World Cup qualifying win over Panama.

Onyewu, who was born in Washington and grew up in the nearby Maryland suburbs, earned his first cap in that game. Needless to say, he'll have plenty of family and friends in the stands.

"I'm expecting a big turnout," Onyewu said. "I don't know the number exactly, but I'm thinking well over 100."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press