TUKWILA, Wash. -- Roman Torres is living his best life these days. The Seattle Sounders center back just arrived back in town following an amazing 48 hours in his native Panama, where his 88th minute goal allowed Los Canaleros to qualify for their first-ever World Cup.
The goal set off a celebration quite unlike anything the Central American country has ever experienced and Torres has been right in the middle of all of it. That included a now viral photo of him sharing a heart-felt embrace with a pitch-invading fan along with a security guard as well as a video showing him riding through the streets of Panama City astride a fire engine on a day the Panamanian president declared a national holiday.
“Panama was crazy on Tuesday night,” Torres said through a translator on Thursday. “It was crazy yesterday and it’s still crazy right now. My time in the airport was just as mad as what you guys have seen.
“Panama is experiencing a pure happiness we’ve never experienced before. Yesterday I traveled and got to experience all the fandom in the airports. Now I’m here with my family, excited for what’s to come and excited for the game on Sunday. Hopefully we can qualify for the playoffs and prepare ourselves for what’s to come.”
That it would be Torres to score the history-making goal is somehow fitting. Torres often says he was a forward as a kid before converting to defender, and he never hesitates to join the attack whenever there’s a chance. The Sounders have even started deploying him as a third forward late in matches and he’s delivered a couple assists.
In this game, however, Torres took the move into the attack upon himself.
“Around the 85th minute I see it’s 1-1 and I look over to the bench just awaiting instructions on when they’re going to say ‘Roman get up the field a little more,’” he said. “That moment didn’t come, so I just went. I trusted my teammates were going to win that header and the ball stayed at my feet and I was able to score the goal.”
The euphoric moment was at least four years in the making. That was when Luis Tejada scored an 83rd minute goal to give Panama a 2-1 lead at home over the already World Cup-qualified United States. Panama was so close to punching their own ticket that fans had started storming onto the field.
But a pair of stoppage-time goals knocked out Panama, causing a rather heart-wrenching turn of emotions. That was part of why Torres insisted that security guards not stop pitch-invaders from sharing the celebration with players.
“When the moment arrived, if the fans are going to come, the fans are going to come,” Torres said. “The Panamanians felt the moment and wanted to be part of the moment. What are you going to do? You can’t stop them in such a happy moment.”
That previous failure also led Torres to making a promise it turns out he wasn’t entirely prepared to keep. Torres had vowed not to cut his hair until Panama had qualified for a World Cup. True to his word, he hasn’t cut it. In the meantime, his hair has become a big part of his image — it’s even emblazoned on shirts he likes to wear — and his daughter wasn’t about to let him lop it off.
“She told me she doesn’t want me to cut my hair,” he said. “At this point in time, I’m not going to do so. She gets to make the rules, so I’m not going to do that.”
Chances are, Panamanians aren’t inclined to hold that against him. He has, after all, cemented his place in their sporting history.
“It’s a memory that will never fade for Panamanians,” Torres said. “What happened Tuesday is historic for the country. ‘Roman Torres scoring the goal that sent Panama to the World Cup’ is something that will never be erased from anyone’s memory.”