For a normal 18 year old, the transition of moving from high school to college is a tremendous one, rife with challenges and stress. For a student-athlete, those difficulties are compounded, with the added complexity of balancing school, developing as an athlete, and still having a social life. For Gabriel Torres, it was even more complicated.
Born in Salvador, Brazil, Torres not only had to face all of the adversity of any 18 year old student-athlete, but had to do so while moving to an entirely new country as he transitioned to the United States for his freshman year at the University of D.C., a highly-touted recruit for the Firebirds. There, despite the immense challenges he faced, Torres thrived. He’d go on to record eight goals and three assists in his freshman year, despite a difficult 5-11-1 season for the Firebirds, showing great promise for the future. But the move didn’t come without unique trials, as the game Torres played in Brazil differed significantly from the one he journeyed to play in America.
“I think my fitness was the biggest thing I had to improve,” Torres told USLPDL.com. “I was always a technical player and when I came here I had to improve my physicals, I had to learn to mark better. To play at left back demands a lot from me, I need to be a back-to-back player and I had to improve my physicals for sure.”
“In the U.S., it’s much more physical,” Torres continued. “The players are faster, they seem hungrier to play professionally. It’s been growing a lot here every day, every year. The PDL for example, I got to play with a lot of professional players who came here to the U.S. to play in the PDL and try to go to the next level as well. It’s an excellent level, very impressive.”
Photo by UDC Athletics/Frank Mitchell
Torres, however, has thrived on the challenge that the adjustment to American soccer and the high level of the Premier Development League has brought. After such a promising first season, the expectations for Torres’ sophomore year were high, and the Firebirds were excited to see the development that a full summer of playing the U.S. could prompt in him.
No matter their expectations, they surely couldn’t have seen this level of growth coming. In ten matches this year for the Firebirds, Torres has simply erupted to begin his second campaign. Just over halfway through the 2017 season, Torres has simply obliterated his freshman year statistics, scoring 11 goals and tallying six assists with eight matches still to play. Those marks are good enough to lead the team in both categories, have Torres tied for third national in NCAA DII for goals and eighth for assists, and have him in third on total points on the season. The success comes as no mystery to Torres, however, as he knows where this meteoric rise originates from.
“I think it’s all the work I’ve been pushing through,” said Torres. “For the PDL season, I’ve stayed here [in the U.S.] through the summer. The summer can be a huge break, three months if you don’t keep working, keep practicing. The college season is very short, so you’ve got to come here fit and ready to play. That’s why I decided to play in the PDL. It’s a huge league, it’s been growing every year. So working, and pushing myself to become better every day.”
“I would say the PDL helped me a lot,” he continued. “Last year I didn’t play in the PDL because I was doing my transfer process, I was in Brazil so I couldn’t play unfortunately. This year, I decided to stay here to focus, keep playing, and keep practicing every day. Also, this year I know the league. It’s a different kind of soccer from the kind I’m used to playing down in Brazil. Now I know the teams, I have more chemistry with my teammates, and it’s been helping me a lot.”
Photo by The Villages SC
Torres did as much for his PDL team, The Villages SC, as the league did for him. In 11 matches with The Villages, Torres scored four goals and three assists while playing a third-best 950 minutes as the team finished with an impressive 8-4-2 record in the Southeast Division. The Florida-based club would ride his strong performances to a seven-match unbeaten run to close the season, including a big 5-1 victory over the South Florida Surf in which Torres scored one goal and assisted another.
He’s likewise helped the UDC Firebirds turn themselves around from 2016’s 5-11-1 campaign to a sterling 8-2-0 record through ten matches in 2017. After dropping two of their first three, the Firebirds haven’t lost since September 6th, winning seven straight matches including going 3-0-0 in their conference slate. The team find themselves second in the conference, just behind LIU Post, with a big match and a chance to take the lead from them on October 14. While Torres has been a huge part of that turnaround, he’s quick to make clear that it’s been a team effort of which he’s just a part, albeit a significant one.
“I think it’s been a great season because everybody has the same mentality, we’re working together, and we set that goal in our minds that we’re going to make the playoffs,” Torres said. “We’re going to fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Everybody is working hard for this and we’re on the same page. No egos, we’re working as a group.”
Photo by UDC Athletics/Frank Mitchell
No egos is a great way to describe the way that Torres plays the game. Despite his penchant for scoring and assisting goals, Torres is happy to play wherever his team needs him. Listed as a midfielder and defender, Torres spent a huge chunk of his PDL season at left back for The Villages SC, making his four goals and three assists all the more impressive.
Torres has featured in the midfield largely for UDC, and the noted increase in productivity tells the tale of his talents. But his ability to play in numerous positions makes him a highly effective component in his team’s success, and sets that ‘no egos’ tone that has carried the Firebirds to this point. Despite his personal triumphs, such as being named to the All-Southern Conference Team in the PDL and winning consecutive East Coast Conference Player of the Week awards in recent weeks, Torres keeps a level head, listens to his coaches, and sees no part of the game as below him.
“I think of myself as a very versatile player,” Torres said. “I can play as a fullback, as a midfielder. I would say 80 percent of my PDL season was as a left back. I just try to understand my role on the field to help my teammates and try and get my goals as well. But listening to what the coaches have to say and trying to put it to work on the field.”
Photo by The Villages SC
But don’t mistake his team-first mentality and avoidance of ego-driven play for a lack of ambition. Torres didn’t move from Brazil to the U.S. simply because he wanted to play collegiate soccer here, he moved to explore professional dreams and his work-ethic and performances show that he’s as serious as it gets about achieving his dreams.
“It’s been my dream since I was a child, I’ve wanted to be a professional soccer player,” said Torres. “I’m working for it every day and it’s my main ambition. That’s why I came to America, to be a pro here, to go to the next level in maybe MLS or the USL. I want to earn a pro contract and play at a high level.”