Sunday, October 12, 2008

Budding talent chooses US, might play vs Cuba

Budding talent chooses US, might play vs Cuba

By JOSEPH WHITE – 1 day ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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."

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