"After the injury I questioned everything, even my belief in God": Román Torres
Intimidating to his rivals and inspiring to his teammates, Panamanian Román Torres has won titles on nearly every team he has played for. Today, the Seattle Sounders get to enjoy his presence, reveling in the suffering of their MLS opponents.
“"He's a scary dude.” That’s how an MLS fan describes Román Torres, though fortunately for the fan, the Panamanian defender plays for his team, the Seattle Sounders, where he is idolized. He gets that reputation not only because of the intense way he plays, but also because he scored the winning penalty that gave the Sounders their first title. For Román, playing is a pleasure and winning is a constant. Of the eight teams that he’s played for in his career, he’s raised trophies for six of them, so he’s also a good luck charm.
“Although I always had it in mind, leaving Panama was not easy. I told myself I was going to leave and I was not coming back.”
After winning so many titles, you’d think that life for Román has been easy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Chepo, the Panamanian club where he debuted, no longer exists. Also, one of his best friends, Rafael Palacio, who convinced Torres to go and try out for a youth team, died in a shootout in Panama at the age of 27. After winning the league championship in Panama with San Francisco (the first title is always the sweetest), he arrived in Cortuluá in Colombia’s second division, where he suffered an injury. He arrived with several compatriots, but with the prospect of not being paid, everyone returned to Panama, except for Román, who at the age of 20, already showed that he was made of steel.
|"Every night I asked God to give me strength and in the end I succeeded. I think that if I returned to Panama I would not be who I am today."|
"Although I always had it in mind, leaving Panama was not easy. I said I was going to leave and I was not coming back. There were times when we were not paid for three or four months. On top of that I fractured my collarbone. Every night I asked God to give me strength and in the end I succeeded. I think that if I returned to Panama I would not be who I am today.” So Román stayed in Colombia, playing for La Equidad, Junior, Atletico Nacional, and Millionarios. He won titles with each team, and Román always was the main figure, always the leader of the defense and even captain and a scorer. Although he’s a central defender today, the 31-year-old Panamanian began his career as a striker, a position he played this season in a game between Seattle and the New England Revolution, which they were losing but eventually tied.
"The day I went to try out for the youth team in Panama, there were like 150 boys. When they told all the attackers to raise their hands, they all did, but I didn’t, even though I always played in that position. When it it was time for the defenders to raise their hands, I did, and I stayed. From 150, the group went down to 50, then 30 and in the end I was in the final team, but as a defender."
And as if he didn’t already have enough titles, Román achieved his most glorious moment as a Sounder when he scored the penalty that gave Seattle the league title last December in the final against Toronto. Román recognizes it as the most outstanding chapter in his career and says that it was thanks to the penalties. "When the time came for penalties, I was not even on the initial list of penalty-takers. When we had to go to the sudden death, we were looking at each other, nobody knew what to do. Suddenly someone called for #25 to take the penalty, but there was no #25, but I was #29, so I went to go take it. I was nervous but I did not think about it and I asked God to tell me where to kick. I took the penalty fast and before hitting it, I knew in which corner I wanted to put it, but I hit it the wrong way and it just went down the middle. Fortunately, the goalkeeper stretched to the side where I had thought to shoot it, so it was good that the ball ignored me.”
That night the image of Román kicking and celebrating went around the world and is still seen today in many corners of Seattle, reproduced in posters and advertisements. After scoring the decisive goal, Torres began to cry. His emotions were more than happiness. It was a culmination of the biggest test of his life: a ligament injury suffered in 2015 and that took him off the field for almost one year. He has a scar that’s nearly a foot long which he calls a "trophy of war". "After tearing my ligaments I questioned everything, even my belief in God, I asked him why he had injured me. I was calmer after that, but it was very difficult to get through it. Everyone supported me, my parents, my wife, the Sounders family. There was three months where I was on crutches and a lot of time I was just recovering by myself because the team was in a tournament and my family went to Panama for my children's school year."
That leadership, that desire to guide and get ahead alongside his own is what has made Panama's team so difficult to beat. His companions admire, respect and obey him. So much so, that when he decided not to go to the Gold Cup, few judged him. "I know I can play but I believe in opportunities," he wrote on his Twitter account. "I want to get to the playoffs with everything and give my body and soul to my country." Several members of the national team, including Adolfo Machado and Aníbal Godoy, who also play in the MLS, have a group chat where they talk about everything. With the Gold Cup already close, Torres knows that his teammates have a rematch around the corner and hopes that they will win the title that in the past editions has been elusive. The United States, Martinique and Nicaragua will be their group rivals in the first phase.
Meanwhile, Román will focus on the World Cup, where Panama will fight to get a place in the hexagonal final of CONCACAF. Winning a tournament with the national team and playing in a World Cup are Román Torres’ two main goals.
Knowing his life story, it’s likely to happen, but also considering his life story, it won’t be easy.