Lone Stars No Longer
It’s midway through an interview that José Torres is spotted. Not by a fan, but his roommate. With a grin, midfielder Clint Dempsey walks up and throws an arm around his shoulder, saying “What’s up, Davy Crocket?” – and an inside joke is now revealed to the world.
Quick as his feet though, Torres fires back: “Look at those big eyes,” he says, trying with his hands to open Clint’s eyes wider.
In October of 2008, both Texans met for the first time as teammates while preparing for the USA’s World Cup qualifying match against Cuba on October 11 at RFK Stadium. Torres earned his first cap that day, coloring himself in the Stars and Stripes for the rest of his international career. Since then, the two have become roommates and friends, with the younger Torres looking up to the Fulham man as a model of professional and international success.
“He’s a great player and he’s done a lot in the past few years,” says Torres. “Personally, I look up to him. I try to learn a lot of things from him.”
As the older of the two, Clint made a name for himself despite coming from the small city of Nacogdoches, Texas, and word of his talent easily traveled the 70 miles to Longview, Texas, the hometown of the younger Torres. So it’s no surprise that José had heard of Dempsey well before he became a star in MLS and a regular member of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“He probably didn’t know who I was, but I knew who he was,” says Torres.
Despite their similar roots, the two chose vastly different paths on their way to professional soccer. Dempsey went to college and played at Furman University for three years, earning conference and national recognition. He then joined the New England Revolution as the eighth pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft and was named the Rookie of the Year. It was that sensational season that earned Dempsey his first cap for the United States, coming on in the 66th minute against Jamaica in November of 2004. As his success continued, it was only a matter of time before he fulfilled his dream of playing in Europe and after earning a permanent place in U.S. soccer history by scoring in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, he moved to English Premier League side Fulham the following year.
Torres chose to head in the opposite direction after his high school career – south. The diminutive midfielder signed with Pachuca, of the Mexican Primera División. It was not a surprising move considering his Mexican father created a passion for the league at home through television and local Hispanic adult league games. He made his first appearance for Pachuca in November of 2006, but over the next year and a half saw few minutes of game action. By 2008, Torres had developed enough to break into a reoccurring role in Pachuca's first team, illustrating the quiet work he had been putting in since leaving Longview and earning him increased attention by the U.S. national team staff.
That led to the reunion at the highest level of two kids from Texas.
“We just hit it off,” said Dempsey. “He's from the same area as me in East Texas. He’s from the same upbringing as me, playing in the Mexican leagues and growing up in a small town where football, baseball and basketball are king.”
Dempsey has enthusiastically befriended the fellow midfielder, who shares some of the same characteristics in their ability to skillfully handle any ball that might come. Torres is quick, good in tight space and an intelligent passer. Dempsey has a penchant for artistry and daring, and, of course, scoring.
The two seem to mesh both on and off the field.
“I call him Davy Crockett,” says Clint mischievously, “because he has a nice mullet and it looks like he’s got a raccoon hat on. He calls me Onion Rings because of my big eyes.”
Of course, it’s all in jest.
“We get along really well,” concluded Dempsey.
As everyone knows, along with the honor of playing in a World Cup comes a large amount of pressure and Torres is still quite young. One year ago, he journeyed to South Africa for the Confederations Cup but didn't see any playing time. He did get an up close look at Dempsey showing his class with tireless hard work to score three goals and earn the Bronze Ball as the third-best player of the tournament. This time around, bolstered by an excellent performance off the bench against Turkey in the USA’s final Send-Off match, Torres may get his own chance to show what he has learned at the feet of his fellow Texan.
“I’m able to give him pointers here and there, but he’s a good player and has a lot of confidence,” Dempsey says. “I think he’ll continue to improve. He’s a year ahead of where I was; I was 23 at the World Cup and he’s 22, so I think he’s on the right track.”