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With local player in the World Cup, San Diego soccer fans are fired up

San Diego is catching soccer fever as the World Cup unfolds.

At O'Brien's Pub in Kearny Mesa on Monday morning, the excitement was palpable as a packed crowd watched the U.S. men's team take on Wales in the opening match. Through jeers and cheers, local San Diego soccer fans also have another reason to root for the U.S.

"We are very excited that we have a San Diego kid in the World Cup," said David Chamberlain, the local president of the soccer support club, American Outlaws. "It's been a long time for that."

Get the latest news, the full match schedule and scores here on KPBS.

The "kid" he's talking about is 24-year-old Luca de la Torre. He grew up in San Diego and played for several club teams here before heading to the United Kingdom to go pro.

One of those teams was the San Diego Nomads Soccer Club. Derek Armstrong, the head coach for the Nomads, still remembers the day he first saw de la Torre play. It was around 2010.

“He was playing at a little elementary school in La Jolla for Del Mar," he said. "He was 12 years old, playing on the right wing, and I wanted him after that. As soon as I seen him, I thought we needed to get him.”

Armstrong said de la Torre's talent was obvious. He should know. Armstrong has coached many players who went on to play for the U.S. men's national team in his 40-plus years in San Diego.

"Luca immediately was somebody that was going to be a difference maker," he said.

But San Diego proved to be too small of a pond for de la Torre. After about three seasons with the Nomads, hopped over the pond to the U.K. after he was scouted by Fulham F.C., one of the teams in the English Premier League.

"I remember it was December, and I advised against it because he was obviously Yale-bound," Armstrong said. "He was going to (an) Ivy League school and with his parentage and everything, I thought that was a natural thing."

Armstrong said he was surprised that de la Torre's parents, Juan de la Torre, a professor of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research Institute, and Anne Bang, a cell biologist and stem cell expert at the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, agreed to let him go. But for de la Torre, he felt he needed a change.

“When I reached the age of 15, I kinda felt I had to make a choice between trying to move to Europe or maybe kinda take a step back and try to go to college," he said in a video promo released by Team USA. "And I decided I wanted to try to go pro.”

At O'Brien's, soccer fans were thrilled to have one of their own in the World Cup.

"We have tons of kids playing soccer all over San Diego," Chamberlain said. "It means a lot to see one of our own in the game."

The excitement is also getting a TV character, Ted Lasso, into the act. The AppleTV+ fictional coach of an English team has a billboard in Pacific Beach with a few words of encouragement for de la Torre.

Ted Lasso - Luca de la Torre.JPG
Alexander Nguyen
Bicyclists crossing the street in Pacific Beach in front of a billboard of fictional coach Ted Lasso from AppleTV+ show giving a "pep" talk to San Diego native Luca de la Torre, who is playing in the World Club, Nov. 20, 2022.

"I'm no scientist or San Diego-ist, but my studies show this city's about to crank up the happy once you stroll onto soccer's biggest stage," the billboard reads. "You're gonna give them something to smile about from the top of the podium."

It also means a lot to Steve Brockhoff to be able to share this moment with his son, even if he's too young to understand.

"My son is 2½ and he's a little too young to really understand that somebody born and raised here in San Diego made it out all the way to the World Cup," he said. "But I'll be able to tell him a story in the future."

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