Torres’ 88th minute goal gave Panama a 3-2 victory over Costa Rica and a berth in its first World Cup. Back in training with Seattle Thursday, he was beaming with pride.
Sounders defender Roman Torres swears he used to do this whole goal-scoring thing on a regular basis back as a young teenager.
Two days after his 88th minute goal gave Panama a 3-2 victory over Costa Rica and a berth in its first ever World Cup, Torres, 31, described growing up as a young striker in his Central American homeland. By age 15, he’d gone to a tryout camp for Panama’s Under-17 national team and made a snap decision when a coach, splitting the 200 or 300 other players into position groups, asked all forwards to raise their hands.
“There were a lot of kids with their hands raised,’’ Torres, having rejoined the Sounders at their training facility Thursday, said through a translator. “Then … they called for defenders and I noticed there weren’t a lot of them. And I was like ‘I’ll play defender!’ because there really weren’t a lot of people to compete with.
“And so, from that moment on, I was a defender and I was learning and learning and getting better at the position. And I decided that was going to be what I adopted as my position. I just kept learning how to play defender as much as I could.’’
And the rest, as they say, is now Panamanian history. Though the hulking, 6-foot-2, 183-pounder typically earns his keep overpowering opponents via brute force, the two most famous plays of his career are indeed the result of balls he put in the net.
It was his goal in the seventh round of penalty kicks last December that lifted the Sounders to their first MLS Cup victory over Toronto. And now, there’s his Tuesday night effort, which touched off the wildest sports celebration Panama has seen since boxer Roberto Duran took down Sugar Ray Leonard nearly four decades ago.
Watch: Roman Torres scores game-winning goal for Panama
— TVN Panamá (@tvnpanama) October 11, 2017
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Torres said there’s “no comparison’’ when it comes to which of his goals was bigger, adding he’d already won a past club championship playing professionally in Colombia while Tuesday’s play was part of soccer history for an entire nation that adores the sport.
“The stadium was just in pure happiness and euphoria over what happened,’’ said Torres, who ripped off his jersey and raced around the stadium in celebration after scoring. “It was a historic moment for our country and our national team.’’
Torres wasn’t even aware during the game that the United States had lost to Trinidad & Tobago while Honduras beat Mexico to secure Panama’s advancement to next year’s World Cup in Russia. He’d taken a flicked header near the top of the box, then lobbed a high floater top-shelf in behind the keeper.
“In the 85th minute, I looked up and saw the score was 1-1 and I’m just waiting for instructions where they say ‘Hey, Roman! Get up the field a little bit more! Get up field a little bit more.’
“But that moment didn’t come, so I kind of just went.’’
The Sounders use Torres much the same way late in games, hoping his physical play creates chaos and confusion around the goal. This time, it was a teammate that won a battle for a ball in the air and Torres who suddenly found it at his feet.
And Torres, the onetime teenage striker, knew exactly what to do with it.
“What Roman accomplished — like, his nation has never qualified before in the history of their country,’’ Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said Thursday. “And he did it. He scored the goal. And he is their captain, and that’s amazing! I could not be happier for him.’’
Moments after Torres scored, the final whistle sounded and fans — realizing a World Cup berth had been secured — went crazy. Some stormed the pitch in celebration, including one who ran toward Torres.
A security guard moved in to stop the fan, but Torres waved him off and the pair wrapped their arms around one another in a celebratory embrace. The security guard then walked over and joined the hug.
“It’s a memory that will never fade from many Panamanians’ memories,’’ Torres said. “What happened on Tuesday is something that is historic for all of the country — Roman Torres scoring the goal that sent Panama to the World Cup. That’s something that will never be erased from anybody’s memory.’’
On Wednesday, Torres rode on a fire engine through celebratory crowds in Panama City after the country’s president had declared the day a national holiday. The national newspaper Mi Diario had the headline “Thank you, Roman’’ on its cover, while Torres was also mobbed by fans at the airport as he prepared to fly back to Seattle.
For Torres, who grew up in Panama City and was just 3 years old when a U.S. invasion there ousted then-dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989, this was a sports moment he’d never even dared dream as a child. Though he can’t remember the invasion, he says life is better and more prosperous now for the country and its citizens.
And they now have a soccer moment to call their own.