Román Torres

Panamania: Román Torres and Panama are ready to take the FIFA World Cup by storm

Roman Torres 87th minute

This is a feature in a special World Cup issue of Sounders Monthly. Copies will be available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central beginning Saturday, June 23 vs. Chicago Fire.

Román Torres’ body has blossomed into a mural of successes.

After scoring the decisive penalty kick in MLS Cup 2016 to lead the Seattle Sounders to their first league title, Torres commemorated the moment on his leg with a tattoo of himself lifting the trophy. Since scoring the game-winning goal last fall against Costa Rica on the final day of qualifying to send Panama to their first FIFA World Cup in the Central American nation’s history, he’s added two pieces: one of the World Cup trophy and one of the time — 87:13 — that he scored against Costa Rica.

Perhaps only Egypt’s Mohamed Salah enters the 2018 World Cup in Russia as such an important figurehead and catalyst of his respective country. But while Salah is often reserved and reflective, Torres is gregarious and outspoken, embracing the moment with as much gusto as he approaches everything.

“It means a lot to represent my country at the World Cup,” Torres said in Spanish ahead of departing for Panama’s camp. “It’s something historic that Panama classified for the World Cup for the first time. The truth is it’s a proud moment for me as a Panamanian to represent my country. I’m enjoying it because it’s something that we’ve been searching for for many years. I thank God for the possibility of me going to the World Cup.”

Panamania: Román Torres and Panama are ready to take the FIFA World Cup by storm -

Román Torres celebrates after scoring the goal that sent Panama to it's first FIFA World Cup / Reuters

As captain and a veteran of nearly 100 caps for Los Canaleros, Torres will bear much of the weight on his shoulders throughout the tournament. It won’t be easy either. Panama is nestled in Group G with massive football nations in England and Belgium, as well as upstart Tunisia. Torres knows that to advance to the Knockout Round would be an incredible accomplishment, and he comprehends the magnitude of the task facing him and his teammates.

Belgium and England, in particular, stand in Panama’s way of getting out of the group stage, and they each boast some of the most talented attacking players in the world, all of whom ply their trade in some of the world’s most prestigious leagues. The names read like an All-Star team: Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Borussia Dortmund’s Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne. The list goes on.

“It’s an important group in front of us,” said Torres. “We’re preparing physically and mentally to prepare for these other national teams, and the truth is Belgium, England and Tunisia have important players, and we have to have maximum concentration to be an organized and compact team.”

Torres doesn’t have to look too far for how to approach a World Cup appearance as an underdog. Fellow CONCACAF team Costa Rica made an unbelievable run four years ago and advanced all the way to the quarterfinals. Los Ticos were all but written off before the tournament started when they were dealt a group that featured powers Italy, Uruguay and England. They not only won the group, but then defeated Greece in penalty kicks in the Round of 16 in one of the more dramatic matches of the entire tournament.

Panamania: Román Torres and Panama are ready to take the FIFA World Cup by storm -

Torres celebrates with Panama Head Coach Hernán Darío Gómez / Reuters

“The goal of Panama is to enjoy the World Cup and have a good performance,” said Torres. “We are mentally prepared to have a good World Cup. Costa Rica did well in their World Cup. I believe we can do the same as Costa Rica did. We have the players and the capacity to have a good World Cup.”

Torres stressed enjoying the experience and relishing the moment on several occasions. This is bigger than football. The team was honored before its departure by the Panamanian government. Torres himself had a stadium named after him to honor his performance and his stewardship for Panamanian football. He can’t even walk outside in Panama City without being stopped by fans congratulating him and wishing him good luck.

“Today, I’m the role model of many kids,” he said. “Many kids want to be like me or some other players on the national team. When I go out in the street, many people want to talk to me, want to take a photo, and it’s very motivating.”

The sentiment of the milestone isn’t lost on Torres either. He said it’s going to be emotional hearing the Panamanian national anthem play at the World Cup for the first time.

“I believe a lot of people will cry,” Torres said candidly.

Panamania: Román Torres and Panama are ready to take the FIFA World Cup by storm -

The moments after Torres' World Cup-clinching goal / Reuters

It will certainly be a memorable moment for Torres, who worked hard himself to ensure he was at full strength ahead of the tournament. He spent several weeks in Colombia with his own personal doctor rehabbing a hamstring injury, but is healthy and feeling good.

Torres started in a 1-0 pre-World Cup friendly loss in Oslo against Norway on June 6. He went 58 minutes in the team’s final tune-up before opening against Belgium at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi on June 18.

However Panama’s World Cup journey goes, though, it won’t soon be forgotten by Torres, Panama’s four million residents or other Panamanians around the world. Torres has their support, as long with his own family, with whom he’s incredibly excited to share this experience.

“My family is my biggest motivation,” said Torres. “My kids, my mom. It’s something that gives me a lot of motivation that they’re with me and always supporting me.”

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