How a plate of octopus helped USMNT’s Luca de la Torre settle in at Celta Vigo and become a fan favorite

“You can’t really play your best football if you don’t feel at home.”

When USA midfielder Luca de la Torre joined Celta Vigo in July 2022, the first months in a new country on and off the field were anything but easy. He had not made a single start in any competition before the 2022 World Cup, and he sustained an injury in October that threatened to cost him his place with the US national team in Qatar.

His club career up to this point has been a bit rocky – he spent seven years at English club Fulham, where he progressed through the youth system but only made seven senior appearances. His two years with Heracles in the Netherlands made him a regular in the first team, but relegation shortened his time there.

The move to Spain proved challenging for De la Torre, both mentally and physically.

MORE: Full look at USMNT squad for March CONCACAF Nations League games

“It was difficult at the beginning,” De la Torre told The Sporting News while in the United States for the March 2023 international break. “I think it’s hard to underestimate how difficult it is to move to another country where I don’t speak the language, where the level of football is different and you have to adapt to a lot of things.

“The first six months were difficult.”

There were also off-field components to De la Torre’s early struggles with the La Liga club. “They add the cultural differences of Spain, like eating at 11pm and all these different things,” said the 24-year-old. “The language is also a big thing. It takes a while but you have to keep at it and eventually it will get better.”

How a plate of squid made the difference for De La Torre

It was definitely going to get better, thanks to a plate of Galician seafood – octopus in particular – which endeared him to the club’s local fans and really set De la Torre on the path to upward trend.

Around Christmas 2022, Celta Vigo published a video on their YouTube channel that you don’t see every day. It was a 15-minute, almost unedited video of De la Torre, along with recently signed international signings Jorgen Strand Larsen (Norway) and Williot Swedberg (Sweden), having dinner together and sampling various dishes of local Galician cuisine.

They will be joined by right-back Kevin Vazquez, a Celta Vigo youth product who hails from Nigran, Spain, about half an hour’s drive from Vigo, just up the coast, and is obviously very familiar with the courts.

The four play for RC Celta de Vigo, a 100-year-old Spanish club from Vigo, Spain, a city on the northwestern tip of the country, just north of the border with Portugal and most importantly, right on the Atlantic Ocean. The club’s home stadium, the Estadio de Balaidos, is a 30-minute walk from the waterfront. And as you can imagine, the local cuisine is heavily seafood oriented, and some of it falls outside the usual range of traditional household fare in other parts of the world.

In the video, De la Torre and his teammates sampled Galician-style king crab, or “centolla” — first the legs and then the body (which Luca finishes on his plate while the others gape) — crayfish (“small prawns”). , a small reef lobster known as “Cigalas de Coral”, gooseneck barnacles and yes, squid.

The foreigners obviously learn as they go. At one point, watching the three newcomers try to dismember a crayfish with utensils causes Vazquez a great deal of pain. “I don’t eat seafood with a knife and fork,” he clarifies. As the two Nordic imports continued to battle, De la Torre got the message and began tearing the shellfish to pieces, much to Vazquez’s delight.

The octopus, or “pulpo” – a Galician staple – was served last. De la Torre’s reaction was muted the whole time, but eventually his teammates realize what happened. While the other two internationals struggled to enjoy the dish, De la Torre devoured the delicious cephalopod.

“If I took you to my grandmother’s house, she would fall in love with you,” Vazquez joked while pouring an extra helping of octopus onto the American’s plate. De la Torre couldn’t help but try to wrap up the video with a recap of the dinner.

“I think I probably ate a whole octopus by myself because the other guys wouldn’t touch it,” De la Torre mused with a chuckle. “Then we won after one of the games I started and I made a post after the game where I ate squid. So now if we win, I’m gonna go out to dinner and get some seafood. It’s nice.”

Celta Vigo fans fall for De La Torre

The posts exploded as fans embraced a newcomer who embraced even a small piece of their culture. The Celta Vigo social account has called De la Torre “el pulpeto” which translates to “octopus expert” and started posting about De la Torre with the octopus emoji.

“This man wants an extra helping of octopus” they have posted at one stage of a March game against Espanyol while at that point he was leading 2-0.

In another that followed a win over Rayo Vallecano, she first tagged Luca questioningly “Reply with an emoji what you will eat tomorrow.” The responses all suggest fans knew exactly what was to come, but de la Torre soon showed up with a short video to make sure everyone knew. “Indeed, tomorrow, PULPO.”

The bit didn’t lose its legs with the FIFA international break. When De la Torre joined the US national team ahead of CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador, the USMNT social account posted a harmless video of the team training in Orlando. Celta Vigo retweeted it, with the caption “Luca is sad. Give him squid. First warning.”

The responses made it clear that while Celta fans were caught up in the joke, American fans were not.

“Now in the national team everyone wants to know why I post octopus every week,” says De la Torre. “Maybe I can get some of them to try it too.”

It was a fun social media moment that took on a life of its own, but the seafood dinner also marked a turning point in De la Torre’s career.

So far he had not managed to become a regular player in England or Spain. Now a daily starter for a club in one of Europe’s top five leagues, he plays an important role as his starting streak coincides with the club’s best seasonal form.

Since the original seafood dinner video was released, De la Torre has appeared in all 12 of Celta Vigo’s league games and has started each of the last 10. The club, who have won just three league games up to that point, have won six of those span, losing only twice.

When De la Torre made his first start for the club they were 16th in the table – now they sit 10th, eight points above the relegation zone and are comfortable about their La Liga status. Spanish magazine AS recently hailed De la Torre as Celta Vigo coach Carlos Carvajal’s “greatest discovery” as he “brings balance on and off the ball”.

“I did a lot of good work during that period and I was positive and understood what was going on,” De la Torre said of his time earlier in the season, which he mostly spent on the sidelines. “In the second half of the season I got my chance. That’s the way things usually go when players make a move like that, it happens to almost everyone in their career. I think it went in the right direction.”

Being immersed in the club’s local culture has been an important part of De la Torre’s growth in his new home. “Vigo is a really nice place to live,” says De la Torre. “People on the street are very nice when they recognize me. I love playing for the club and I’m very happy there now.”

The fans have reacted in kind. Social Media Posts at the club are regularly inundated with comments from fans expressing their admiration for the American.

Now, as he prepares to play for his country in the first competitive matches of the all-important 2026 World Cup cycle, his homeland will be in the spotlight as it is set to host football’s preeminent tournament, De la Torre has one as a professional important milestone reached.

“It feels like home now. Yes, definitely.”

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