CARSON, Calif. — The United States struggled to find that last touch in their 1-0 loss against Costa Rica on Friday, but it wasn’t due to a lack of chances thanks to the exceptional play of Jose Francisco Torres.
The midfielder, making his second straight start under new US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, was one of the Americans’ chief offensive cogs. He looked extremely confident in his ability to connect passes, create chances and even make timely tackles against los Ticos. Many called it Torres’ finest international performance, and Klinsmann agreed.
“Overall, very positive,” said the German tactician. “He feels more and more comfortable here and more and more confident. He needs these types of games to grow, and I think that he is growing at a fast pace.”
Against Costa Rica, “El Gringo” was protected in the midfield by the calming presence of Maurice Edu playing directly behind him in the defensive midfield role. With Edu guarding his back, Torres was able to find the space to string passes together – he finished the match with an impressive 75 of 86 passes completed – and help create opportunities, like Brek Shea’s run early on that almost led to a goal form Landon Donovan.
But Torres also displayed a willingness to create his own opportunities, nearly driving in an equalizer from 30 yards in the 71st minute that forced a save from Ticos ‘keeper Keylor Nevas.
According to Torres, part of the reason for his inspired play is owed to the upbeat Klinsmann.
“He’s given me the opportunity to just play free,” said a grinning Torres after the match. “He tells me to get on the ball, attack a lot more, and that gives me a lot of confidence. When a coach tells you to get on the ball and spray balls left and right, it gives you confidence.”
As the match wore on and the Costa Ricans looked to hold their advantage, Torres found himself being repeated fouled, a tactic meant to slow down the influential midfielder. Although Torres has struggled in dealing with physicality in the past, he appeared to handle the pressure well on Friday night, not only dealing with the physical play but also making a number of crucial tackles himself that held the Costa Ricans back.
For Klinsmann, the story with Torres’ development is similar to that of the entire team: it is important for the Pachuca star to use his skills to grow into a more complete player, but Klinsmann knows the transformation will not happen overnight, Still, Klinsmann is confident that Torres will continue to play a vital role for the United States going forward.
“He’s has a very, very good vision, he sees the spaces, he can pass those balls, he can switch quick to the other side,” said Klinsmann. “We told him, ‘Take those risks and don’t worry if a pass or two is not ending the right way.’ He is definitely a player who we will build over the next months and years to go.”
With Torres’ finest performance for the Red, White and Blue now in the books, it seems that there is a solid base for both the player and the coach to build upon.
Adam Serrano writes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano