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Facundo Torres: A student of the game for Orlando City & Uruguay | MLSSoccer.com

Facundo Torres: A student of the game for Orlando City & Uruguay | MLSSoccer.com

Every young soccer player needs guidance, coaches, teammates and mentors who help them along the way. Orlando City SC attacker Facundo Torres, for one, definitely knows where he can go for advice.

In his second year with the club, he’s helped along by veteran MLS manager Oscar Pareja.

“Intense,” Torres says immediately when asked about what it’s like to work with Pareja and his staff.

But if Pareja and his staff are intense, what does that make Uruguay national team manager Marcelo Bielsa?

“He takes the details to another level,” Torres says with a laugh.

The 23-year-old winger hopes to achieve new heights with both coaches this fall and winter, again accepting a call from Uruguay and, after November qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia, refocusing on the Lions’ chase for their first-ever MLS Cup crown. Up next, Orlando host the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday at Exploria Stadium (5:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

But Torres in Orlando almost didn’t happen. Luiz Muzzi, Orlando City’s executive vice president of soccer operations, recalled a difficult negotiation, saying while the Uruguayan talent always liked the idea of joining the club, negotiations were tough and led the club to wonder if they really could pull off the swoop for the then-Peñarol attacker.

“With all the potential we saw in him and everything that ownership wanted and gave to us, it just made sense, but it was really complicated at the time,” Muzzi recalled this week.

Muzzi and his team eventually got the club-record deal over the line, and Torres now is excelling for both club and country.

“I’m really, really happy,” Torres said. “You work here in the club to be able to get that call-up to the national team and when it comes, you always try to take advantage of all the opportunities it can bring you.”

Nailing the details

While Torres still is looking to climb the Uruguay depth chart and garner important minutes from Bielsa, he’s continually earned call-ups as the team sets its sights on clinching a place at the 2026 World Cup and having a strong showing at the 2024 Copa América set to take place in the United States.

“El Loco,” as Bielsa is known, arrived at the start of this cycle and, as is his custom, started a deep film study, often sharing what Torres and other Uruguay teammates need to improve.

“Every day, he’s working a ton to find that smallest detail about what you’re lacking or where you can hurt the opponent, where we can make our strengths show,” Torres said. “He’s watching our games from Orlando and of each player to see how we’re doing and what we’ve done. Honestly, here in Orlando ‘profe Oscar’ also works a ton with his staff, and it’s a place where I feel really comfortable and that pushes me to work hard.”

Both coaches have to like what they see. Torres is showing progress in Pareja’s system, scoring 14 goals and providing four assists a year after a debut nine-goal, 10-assist campaign. The 2023 season started slowly, but he caught fire with a stretch of five goals in four matches from June to early July and maintained good form from there as Orlando wrapped the season on an 11W-2L-2D run, earning the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

For Muzzi, it’s been a pleasure to see Torres’ willingness to learn from both the staff in Orlando and the legendary Bielsa with Uruguay.

“It was the biggest signing in Orlando’s history, but he didn’t come in that attitude of, ‘Hey, I’m your star!’” Muzzi said. “He’s very humble and has always been very workable.

“It’s a credit to him because if you don’t have that mentality, it doesn’t matter who you’re working with. But he’s just absorbing everything, like, ‘Man, what a chance to work with Oscar here and with Bielsa and Uruguay. He just continually wants to get better.”

Always improving

Beyond what Torres is doing on the field, he’s enjoying life in Orlando, saying coaches are “always asking how we’re doing, how we’re feeling” and offering advice to him as a new dad.

“In my personal life, the first time leaving the country, being away from home, far from the family – I have my daughter now who was born here and I’ve really matured here as a person and also in the game,” said Torres, who played at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. “I feel ready to be able to take that huge step to European soccer.”

Even during those days when Muzzi was sweating the details of the transfer, clubs across the Atlantic had interest in signing Torres. Yet, the lessons he’s learned in North America have proved invaluable as Torres maps out how to reach his dreams.

The left-footer continues to get into good places to score, either off the dribble or arriving later in the box. He has become more physical, trying to become impossible to knock off the ball without conceding a foul. And his decision-making has gotten quicker. While always a brilliant playmaker in Uruguay, Torres initially struggled with the speed of play after arriving stateside.

“I think when I got here the intensity of play in MLS was different from what I was used to in Uruguay,” Torres said. “That was what was tough for me at first to adapt to. I’ve done that now and feel very comfortable here.”

That comfort is why he’s in no rush to leave, and why he has his eye on adding to the club’s trophy cabinet after helping Orlando clinch their first MLS-era title last season via the 2022 US Open Cup.

“We’ve worked a ton for this moment,” Torres said of the postseason. “This season we got a lot of points and achieved a nice style of play. We’re anxious for this moment.”

On Torres’ transfer potential, Muzzi adds: “I would clearly be lying if I said nobody has reached out to us.” But the front-office decision-maker hopes to find a deal that makes sense for all parties, one that could benefit the star player, his young family and the club.

That offer may arrive soon enough. But for now, Torres is content to put in the work for club and country, taking on the lessons Pareja and Bielsa impart and pushing for another trophy for Orlando City.

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