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Happiness is the goal for Chivas USA's Erick Torres

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Erick Torres, 21, has scored 14 goals, tied for second in Major League Soccer
Torres has a six-game scoring streak and was named an All-Star by MLS commissioner

Scoring a goal sometimes looks about as easy for young striker Erick Torres as the smile that spreads across his face once the ball finds the net.

A single touch is often all he needs to change a game. And then his face lights up as he greets his Chivas USA teammates with arms spread wide — or dives into the stands to celebrate with fans.

"It's a type of celebration that really fills me with joy," Torres said through an interpreter.

Torres, 21, has been doing a lot of celebrating since coming to Chivas USA last July on loan from Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara while the teams were under the same ownership. In that time, Torres has scored 21 goals in 34 Major League Soccer games and is tied for second in the league with 14 goals this season.

The rising star also holds a franchise-record six-game scoring streak and was named an All-Star on Saturday by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who selected Torres with one of his two picks.

Torres, the youngest player on the Chivas USA roster, came up through the Chivas Guadalajara academy and played three seasons for the Mexican club at the first-division level. "Despite my youth, I think that because of the experience that I had in the past, that raised me to not be a rookie or portrayed as a rookie," Torres said.

Torres was called up to Chivas Guadalajara's first team at age 17. He debuted amid great fanfare but found himself behind three forwards on the depth chart. He scored 14 goals in three seasons.

The club transferred him to Chivas USA, where he was reunited with then-Coach Jose Luis Real, his coach at the academy level and in his debut with Chivas Guadalajara.

Given more playing time with Chivas USA, Torres has demonstrated his understanding of the MLS game.

"Thinking fast and being a step ahead of what the defenders are doing has helped me to do better here," Torres said. "Here soccer is a little bit more physical. It's very fast, and you don't have that much time to think about the play. In comparison to [the U.S.], Mexican soccer is a little slower."

Torres' quick thinking can provide an instant spark. On July 5 he sent Chivas USA home a 1-0 winner over Montreal with an acrobatic bicycle kick in stoppage time, then he jumped into the StubHub Center stands to celebrate.

"He doesn't need to be striking a lot of balls in order for him to put the ball in the net," Chivas USA Coach Wilmer Cabrera said.

Torres has scored his 14 goals this season with only 22 shots on goal — a remarkable 64% conversion rate. That is 14 percentage points higher than the next-best rate among the league's top five scorers. He has almost half of Chivas USA's goals — no one else on the team has more than two.

Cabrera said Torres will improve his possession skills and off-the-ball movement, but he already has good instincts around the net.

Against Real Salt Lake on June 28, Torres didn't waste time batting the ball around in the box: After one touch, he blasted a pass straight into the net.

"He has a component — it's a natural component — which is, he's in the box in a good position, and when he touches the ball, the ball goes in goal," Cabrera said.

Torres has big goals for his future, including playing for Mexico's national team and perhaps with a club in a European league. Torres has already played for Mexico's U-20 squad, but the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro could be Torres' first chance with the senior team.

"My dream … is to be able and to have the opportunity to represent my national team on one level," Torres said. "We have the Olympics coming up, and that's something that I'm working for every day, to have the opportunity perhaps of being called up to the national team."

Torres' own future with Chivas USA remains uncertain. In June the team extended Torres' contract through Dec. 31 and could renew it. But by the time contract negotiations begin, Chivas USA could have a new owner.

MLS is operating the team after purchasing it this year from Jorge Vergara, who still owns Chivas Guadalajara. Torres' 2014 deal is for $150,004, the second-lowest salary of the top five MLS scorers.

In the meantime, Torres hopes to keep scoring — and smiling.

"He needs to continue doing that every time he scores," Cabrera said. "He's always happy. That's the way you should play soccer, and that's the way you have to celebrate goals."

Follow Samantha Zuba on Twitter  @szuuuubes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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