TORONTO – Just two weeks ago, José Torres was practically giddy at his assignment handed down by US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“He wants every pass to go through me and to try to get it forward as quick as we can and get it out wide,” he said on MLSsoccer.com's ExtraTime Radio before the May 26 friendly against Scotland.
Coming off the back of a great season as a regular central midfielder for Pachuca, the assumption was that Klinsmann would give the 24-year-old the opportunity to boss the middle of the park after missing the last few camps through injury.
But it hasn't quite turned out as expected.
Torres, who currently has 15 caps for the US, has started all three of the friendlies in preparation for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but has been shunted out to the left of the midfield, where he has looked slightly disjointed.
“It's a different spot, but if I'm going to play there, I'm going to have to get used to it," Torres told MLSsoccer.com after the US' languid 0-0 draw with Canada at BMO Field, implying that he isn't yet 100 percent there yet. "I'm used to being in the midfield, keeping possession of the ball, trying to play forward and trying to let the game go through me.”
So far, moving Torres wide hasn't really clicked for the US. The World Cup veteran has shown his natural technique, range of passing and intelligence, but has the tendency to go missing and question marks have been raised over his defensive abilities in that position, too.
What is clear is that Klinsmann sees something in Torres' technical ability and vision that he is desperate to harness. The Longview, Texas, native has started every game he has been fit to play since the German legend took over last July, but has completed 90 minutes only once.
That seems to neatly sum up Torres' situation, with Klinsmann seemingly continuing to wrestle with how to use a player that has the potential to be the creative driver the US needs, but, on the less-desirable side, has a luxury element about him.
Part of the problem stems from Klinsmann having had comparatively little time to introduce changes in tactics and mesh players plying their trade in very different leagues. Perhaps even more so than his peers, this challenge applies to Torres, who was raised in Pachuca's youth system and has only been involved in three Klinsmann camps.
“It's way different than being on a club team,” admitted Torres. “In the club, you're there and used to playing with all the guys. When you come to the national team, it's one or two games and then you go back.”
Away from the field, one person Torres can lean to for advice as he adapts to life as a national team starter is fellow East Texan Clint Dempsey, who Torres jokingly refers to on Twitter as “Ojos de Cebolla” or “Onion Eyes.” The two room together during national team camps and are close friends.
“You learn a lot of things from him,” said Torres. “He's doing really well in England and I'm happy for him.”
Despite the talk about a European move for Torres, it doesn't appear that he is likely to join Dempsey across the Atlantic this summer, at least based on the way he talks about Pachuca and its new coach.
“Hugo Sánchez is a great coach and a legend down in Mexico,” Torres said. “I'm looking forward to learning from him and seeing how this season goes. I'm more than happy to stay there. They gave me everything.”
Down in Pachuca, when Torres first chose to play for the United States, the backlash was huge, especially when he was involved in the World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico in 2009.
“They call me everything, they boo me,” Torres said in an interview before the US' match vs. Mexico on August 12, 2009 at Estadio Azteca.
Things have relaxed on that front.
“I don't sweat that no more,” he said in his thick Texan accent. “That was in the beginning. They don't say much these days, and I just try to do my job and do the best I can.”
If Torres can become an indispensable part of the team like his buddy Dempsey, whether that's in the center or on the left, the booing from Mexico fans will return.
It might not be nice, but it will be a welcome sign that Torres is doing just fine for the US.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.