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SSFC Spotlight: Luca de la Torre regains momentum with Heracles

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The American midfielder is receiving regular playing time in the Netherlands.

Heracles Almelo v Ajax - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Gerrit van Keulen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

After spending four years with the reserves at Fulham, there were questions as to whether Luca de la Torre would reach the next level. Failing to break through at a Championship club is a difficult pill to swallow, but sometimes the issue is the specific location and not the league or level. Now at Heracles in the Dutch Eredivisie, the 22-year-old is thriving with regular playing time.

De la Torre grew up in San Diego, California and played with local powers Nomads and San Diego Surf. He joined the Fulham Academy in 2013 after being identified by a scout and regularly traveling for several trials, opting for the English club over “staying home” or “going to the residency program in Florida.” His youth soccer career was profiled by Sports Illustrated, which included living with a host family, taking the bus to daily training, and playing with the U-18 and U-21 squads.

He signed his first professional contract in August of 2015, a three-year deal, but would continue to be a part of the youth teams. His early start can be credited to a Spanish passport gained through his father’s lineage. De la Torre wouldn’t make his senior debut for another year, starting and playing 88 minutes in a 3-2 victory over Leyton Orient in the first round of the EFL Cup. Fulham rewarded him with two more appearances in the subsequent rounds, substituting into fixtures against Middlesbrough and Bristol City. The midfielder stayed with the reserves the rest of the season, only being named to the match day squad once.

Showing faith through a paucity of playing time and a pre-season injury, Fulham awarded the then-19-year-old with a contract extension through the summer of 2020. “It’s a great feeling,” said de la Torre. “I’ve been at this club for a few years now and it definitely feels like home for me. There are a lot of opportunities for me this year to play well for both Fulham and the USA, and I’m looking forward to grabbing the opportunity with both hands.”

The Cottagers went through a three-year cycle of promotion, relegation, and promotion, bouncing back and forth between the Championship and Premier League. Throughout that time, de la Torre made a total of 11 first-team appearances, mostly staying with the reserves. The highlight performance came in one of only two starts, contributing one goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Millwall FC in the third round of the EFL Cup.

He was named Man of the Match, with the assumption that good times were ahead. “Luca’s a really great lad and he played well - two assists and one goal,” said then-manager Slaviša Jokanović. “I haven’t had space to give him many chances, but he has never stopped pushing forward, has shown personality and professionalism in training. He’s never given up and he’s never surrendered. I can’t promise anything, but he’s showed many positives. We’ll try and find a solution, and think how we can use different players, in different moments, or different formations.”

Despite the sterling performance, the “solution” of regular playing time did not follow at Craven Cottage or elsewhere. De la Torre was not loaned out to another club and continued to perform in unexceptional Premier League 2 and EFL Trophy fixtures, a perplexing decision for a young talent in need of experience and consistency. There were rumors of a temporary move to the New England Revolution in 2018 amid supposed interest from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Belgium, and other English sides. Last winter, he was connected to Djurgårdens in the Swedish Allsvenskan, but the deal reportedly broke down due to his agent’s demands for hastening negotiations.

His departure finally came after seven years in England, although Fulham offered a new contract. He described leaving the club as “emotional” and “didn’t think it was going to be that hard.” De la Torre joined Heracles Almelo as a free agent for two years with the option for an additional season. The Eredivisie club was considered a good fit due to its “attractive, technical style of playing,” a sentiment shared by management.

“Heracles is a club that develops players,” de la Torre told American Soccer Now after signing. “It is the philosophy of the club. They play a style of football that attracts me - as well as the general style in the Eredivisie. It’s very attacking and very entertaining football, which is a great positive for me.”

The newest signing was immediately inserted into the rotation, entering the opener against ADO Den Haag as a substitute. In little more than half of one season at Heracles, de la Torre made more first-team appearances than in the previous four seasons at Fulham. With 21 total matches, he’s steered the Heraclieden to 11th in the table, on pace to stay in the league. The search for the right club is over for the time being, as it would be hard to find a better situation in a well-respected first division that historically places a priority on development.

Already known as a creative technician with the ability to thread a penetrating pass in the final third, the Netherlands has introduced a new dimension to his game. According to One Goal, Heracles utilizes a counter-pressing style, focused on “remaining compact defensively and creating chances higher up the field.” Despite registering a mere three assists, the “quick and energetic” de la Torre is a hard tackler and “contributing massively in the buildup.”

Capable of lining up at several spots in the midfield, Heracles has shifted him from winger to a more central role. “I prefer to play at [the] 8, but I feel comfortable in multiple positions,” he shared with Almelo’s Weekblad. “I can also play [the] 10, 7, and 11. It’s all possible. In youth, I played the most at 8. I prefer to not play the 9, but otherwise I can fill in nicely in the attack and in the midfield.”

Having receded to the outskirts of the national team picture, de la Torre may find himself back in Gregg Berhalter’s immediate plans. He was a regular with the United States youth setup, appearing at the U-17 and U-20 World Cup. His senior international debut came in 2018 against the Republic of Ireland. According to a recent interview, U.S. Soccer is “watching him,” with the possibility of taking part in the Gold Cup during the summer’s busy slate.

There is no direct path to success, and sometimes a detour is necessary, particularly after a long period of relative inactivity. Four years is a long time to stay mired in the wilderness of reserve team football. With only a few months in the Eredivisie, Luca de la Torre has reinvigorated his career and altered its trajectory. The talent has always been there, as evidenced by Fulham’s last offer of a contract extension, but the club was unable to find a role for him. He is now in a stable professional environment that provides opportunities to demonstrate his abilities and move forward, no longer described with vague generalities of potential while hidden away at the training ground.