Jurgen Klinsmann has now officially cast off as skipper of the US national team. A three game tenure mere prologue to what will be a fact-finding, player-finding mission leading up to qualifying and the World Cup in 2014.
Yet, as much as the camps of late 2010 will not be remembered much when 2014 dawns, at present, they are starkly in contrast to the complexion–in results, personnel and more–to the Bob Bradley era.
And in the early going there is no more polarizing figure than Jose Torres.
So tightly is the theme of Jose Torres woven into current USMNT storylines, that the name “Jose Torres” isn’t descriptive enough; it needs a few different modifiers depending on the discussion as themes of style of play, possession, and ethnicity swirl around the player who often rooms at US camps with a dribbler and passer that should be getting more of the headlines, Clint Dempsey.
It’s all even somewhat ironic in that Torres is a slight of frame, softer spoken individual who doesn’t purport to be a “star.” This isn’t Lebron James and Carson, CA is not South Beach.
What created this “vortex” is complicated in dissection, but we’ll make a go of it.
First there is “Torres the Player” of course.
A proverbial fly in Bob Bradley’s USA soup during the previous cycle who somehow continued to find the open window to chances after Bradley perennially swatted him away.
An owner of only four national team starts during Bradley’s reign, it was a start–a loss–against Costa Rica on the road in World Cup qualifying that initiated the national team drama for the diminutive midfielder. Tasked with working the left flank, Torres was deficient on defense with two miscues ultimately leading to two chances and two scores. He would be banished to the bench for awhile.
Bradley did take Paco as he is known to the World Cup, naively starting him against a seasoned Slovenia side relying that his son Michael could provide cover for Torres average tackling in the center of the pitch. While film will show that it was the younger Bradley who was flawed in his coverage that game–perhaps being tasked with too much–it was Torres who was beaten on tackles a few times who got the hook from the game at the half. Thus would end Torres’s volatile action during the Bradley era.
Now? The herr to the US hot seat, Jurgen Klinsmann has seen fit to make Torres a staple on the teamsheet in his early matches, starting him in all three matches and flipping him the keys in the center of the pitch.
There is “Torres the Representative.” That is that the Mexican-American player represents the Hispanic influence–a certain type of player, type of skillset–that Jurgen Klinsmann cited as missing in his introductory press conference. Attack-oriented, possession-oriented more so.
And finally there is “Torres the Conductor.” The hypothesis here being that the United States has enough talent to attempt that more possessive, attack-focused game with a 23-year-old pulling the strings from the central midfield spot.
Torres is a deft passer who is equals parts trickery and velvety with the ball when he’s on. Whereas a player like Luka Modric or Cesc Fabregas might make short runs in possession to maintain it and create opportunity, Torres is more similar to a Xavi, reluctant to create for himself, neglectful of running into the box and tasked with being more of a “hub.”
Like Xavi, he will never be accused of being a defensive stopper.
And now finally, during the early term of Klinsmann’s rule, Torres the Player, Torres the Representative and Torres the Conductor have coalesced to create a perfect storm of storylines and questioning around just how the new manager will build his team.
And might there just be a few morsels of the grand scheme that have leaked out?
On Friday night, Torres was paired with Landon Donovan in the center of the pitch. Tuesday, it was Clint Dempsey. Neither US superstar–Donovan or Dempsey–had their best game–and that is to be expected–under the new coach. Sure, there was unfamiliarity with their roles and with their positioning, but both players were more tethered than they had been during the Bob Bradley era.
In yesteryear, the pair would fine themselves often as the middle “2″ of a 4-2-2-2, responsible for covering the flanks when necessary but often tasked with a higher responsibility of ball carriage and igniting the attack in the middle of the field.
With Torres noodling around the middle, and Donovan and Dempsey both play centrally, neither attacker had that space that comes from the seeing the field from the interior edge of the flank. Sure, both players had less defensive responsibilities, but that doesn’t necessarily breed options.
In fact–and it’s somewhat surprising that the broadcasters didn’t pick up on this–Friday saw Landon Donovan more than any game in recent memory receive the ball with his back to the goal and have to attempt turn-and-gos. This may be the surest way to defend Donovan.
It was on the flanks however that positive ratings came in for players. Brek Shea was blasted across media channels as revelatory–he of the toeing the touchline skillset wide to the left. Edgar Castillo got forward; Jozy Altidore checked to the flank more frequently as did Juan Agudelo.
All looking to–perhaps though not exclusively–play off the distribution of the vortex in the middle of the pitch.
Now take a look into the recesses of the US developmental pool–it is flush with wing prospects. Names like Josh Gatt, Joseph Gyau to add to Brek Shea and Timmy Chandler already in the stable.
Might there be just a mere glimpse at what Klinsmann sees bubbling up from below?
However, this eruption of wide talent might also burn those that don’t heed the environment.
How many times have you seen Xavi be relied on for a defensive stand?
The US is and won’t be for some time, Spain or Brazil where players grow up on beaches and barrios practicing ball control skills. The US at present is still the land of the Big Boom. The long pass a favorite of youth ball up to high school.
Of course, that will change with time, but is it wise to take on the rest of the world in game they are already more proficient in?
At the very least, it’s entertaining and educational to make a go of it. And that’s precisely the latitude that Jurgen Klinsmann was offered with the US head role and seized upon.
And that’s exactly why it’s still hurricane season for the Jose Torres Vortex.