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U-17 World Cup Qualifying

Luca de la Torre: "No Reason We Can't Win Cup"

The 16-year-old San Diego native will have a battle on his hands when the U.S. under-17 team takes on a talented Guatemala squad tonight in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 05, 2015
11:23 AM
THE UNITED STATES U-17 NATIONAL TEAM dominated an overmatched Cuba side, 5-0, to start the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament on Friday; battled past a physical Trinidad & Tobago team on Monday by a 2-0 score; and will try to make it three in a row tonight against Guatemala (6pm; Fox Sports 2), a technically gifted squad that should present the young Yanks with a bit more of a challenge.

Luca de la Torre, 16, will be one of the players to keep an eye on as the Americans attempt to control the midfield and open up the attack. The San Diego native notched two second-half assists in the Cuba win, and wouldn't mind a repeat performance against a much tougher opponent.

"We’ve seen Guatemala play once or twice,” de la Torre told American Soccer Now. “We noticed that they are slightly smaller than us but that they are also good technically.

“It should be a good footballing match but we are also going to try to use our size to our advantage as much as we can on set pieces,” he added. “Our attackers are all really good technically and we have a few very fast wingers that can finish.”

U.S. head coach Richie Williams acknowledged that his team did not play its best against Trinidad & Tobago but was encouraged that his players were able to get three points despite the uneven performance. p>

“Qualifying is always a great competition," Williams said. "Every team is going to come and compete. So I think the level has been very good, very competitive. I just saw Honduras play their first game the other night. Honduras is a very good team, but again we’re not really even looking toward Honduras yet. We’re looking toward Guatemala.”

De la Torre is one of the impressive number of foreign-based players on the U.S. U-17 team. Last year he signed with Fulham—a move that was enabled by the Spanish passport he acquired through his father.

Unlike many young American players who have make similar moves, it has not been a difficult transition for de la Torre. He developed a close friendship with another American on the club, U.S. U-20 star Emerson Hyndman, which helped de la Torre adjust to life abroad.

“I always had the mindset that I was over there for a reason that if I worked hard, being away from friends and family would be worth it,” the 16-year-old de la Torre said. "It was the right decision for me as a player."

Fulham is known for its strong affiliation with American players, dating back nearly 20 years to a time when few European clubs believed in players from the United States. Eddie Lewis, Marcus Hahnemann, Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, and most recently Hyndman have all played with the club.

De la Torre says he did not think much about the "Fulhamerica" tradition when he joined the Cottagers, but Dempsey’s time at the club did inspire him as a player.

“I knew Dempsey was there and I looked up to him as an American who was playing big games in the Premier League,” de la Torre said. “He was doing something that I wanted to do.”

For now, however, de la Torre is entirely focused on ensuring this U.S. U-17 team qualifies for October's World Cup in Chile. A win tonight against a tough Guatemala squad would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Like many of his teammates, de la Torre believes that this group has what it takes to compete with—and defeat—the best teams in the world.

“I think we’ve proven that already,” de la Torre said. “We’ve beaten some huge footballing countries. There is no reason why we can’t qualify for this World Cup and even win the U-17 World Cup.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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