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De La Torre: Now it’s down to business

We’ve taken our tough game now.”

That was the measured response given by USA’s saviour of the night, Luca De La Torre. The diminutive midfielder struck an equaliser for the Stars and Stripes in the last minute of injury time to rescue a point in a thrilling 3-3 draw from their FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 opening match against Ecuador in Group F.

Ecuador punished the CONCACAF champions twice within the first seven minutes in Incheon, leaving the 2015 quarter-finalists shell-shocked. However, De La Torre and his team-mates did not panic.

“Obviously we didn’t start well, so getting a point out of that game, after we gifted them two goals, is definitely a win for us in the end,” De La Torre, who celebrates his birthday tomorrow, told FIFA.com.

De La Torre created USA’s first for 17-year-old forward Josh Sargent. Showcasing his dribbling ability as he drew the attention of multiple Ecuadorian defenders, he opened up space for Sargent to break free and score. On his dramatic, late goal, he saw an opportunity and took it. De La Torre’s goal is the latest scored in regulation time by a USA player at the U-20 World Cup.

“It’s not really a matter of being calm or not,” he said. “It just came to me, you hit it and it goes in.” USA’s mental resolve is clearly there, coming from behind twice to salvage a point.

“At half-time, we felt like, despite being 2-1 down, that we were the better team and we knew that if we came out and played well that the game was ours to win,” De La Torre said. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but we still showed that we deserved to win the game, in the end.

“We’re mentally strong. You can’t count us out of anything. It doesn’t matter if we’re 4-0 down, we’ll still have a chance of coming back.”

This is not a cliched response from the Fulham midfielder; it comes from experience. At the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, USA were defeated by ten-man Panama in the opening match. However, they regrouped and went on to lift the trophy.

“It felt similar to our first game of qualifying against Panama where we lost 1-0 against a ten-man side. I feel like you only get one of those in a tournament, and if you take a second one and have a second game like this, then you’re out.

“We took one of those games in qualifying, but we ended up winning the whole tournament. We’ve taken our tough game now. It’s down to business.”