Roman Torres is best-known to those who follow MLS as the hulking defender for the Seattle Sounders, one half of one of the league’s most formidable center-back duos along side three-time Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. At the moment, however, Torres is away from his Rave Green home, gearing up for the challenge of a lifetime as he gets set to lead the Panamanian national team in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Leading up to this summer’s festivities, here are 10 things about the Sounders’ back line stalwart and soon-to-be World Cup participant.
He’s Panama’s captain
Even before he helped see his country through to Russia in dramatic fashion (we’ll get to that later), Torres was firmly established as a footballing icon in his home country. Now 32, Torres has been racking up caps for Panama since 2005, becoming one of the faces most identified with the team and earning a reputation as one of Concacaf’s most fearsome defenders.
That longevity has led to him serving as his country’s captain for many of those caps and, assuming he’s all healed up from a recent hamstring injury and able to play, that figures to remain the case when Panama takes the pitch at the World Cup this summer.
He’s an A+ Dancer
One of the most indelible aspects of Seattle’s 2016 MLS Cup championship run was the Sounders’ postgame locker room dance parties that followed victories. The tradition was spearheaded by Torres, who told MLSsoccer.com in the midst of that playoff run that it was actually something he’s brought to teams dating back to his playing days in South America.
“I’ve done it before with other teams,” Torres said. “It’s something that the Panamanians have in them – the dancing, the happiness. It’s good for the group. It doesn’t make a difference what [music] they put on, I’ll dance to it.”
He’s the reason Panama is in the World Cup
Torres is known first and foremost as a brick-wall defender, but it was actually his attacking chops that saw Panama through during World Cup qualifying. Needing a goal in their final qualifying match against Costa Rica to avoid elimination, Torres improbably ranged forward from his center back position and hit a highlight-reel first-time volley into the net with just three minutes left in the game, setting off one of the wilder post-goal scenes you’ll ever see at Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez Stadium.
“Pure happiness. The Panamanians are so blessed with what happened,” Torres said of the milestone moment after he returned to Seattle. “It’s something we’ve been working towards for a very long time. I can’t say it enough, the stadium was just pure happiness and euphoria over what happened. It was a historic moment for our country and for our national team.”
Oct. 10 is now a national holiday in Panama
Torres’ goal against Costa Rica was the culmination of a long road for Panama, which came close to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup only to fall agonizingly short. If you need any more evidence of just how much the opportunity to compete in Russia means to the country and its soccer-mad supporters, consider this: Panama president Juan Carlos Varela swiftly declared Oct. 10, the day of the historic tally, a national holiday.
He also has a field named after him
The national holiday isn’t the only immortalization of the moment that took place after the goal. In the weeks that followed, officials in Arraijan, Panama proposed renaming a local stadium previously called “El Mystic” after Torres. The facility, used for both soccer and baseball, now features Torres as its permanent namesake.
He used to be a forward
It may have come as a surprise to some to see Torres bomb forward and lash home such a cheeky finish against Costa Rica. But it actually makes sense when you consider that in his younger days, Torres used to be a forward – something he frequently reminds reporters of during his media scrums. He’s also jokingly campaigned in Seattle training for a chance up top. Torres didn’t convert to defense until a tryout for Panama’s U-17 national team, where he ended up giving life on the backline a shot.
“There were a lot of [forwards] with their hands raised [at the tryout],’’ Torres recalled in an interview with the Seattle Times last season. “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.’’
He’s also an MLS Cup hero
Torres has achieved iconic status in his home country, but he’s also managed to cement his place in Sounders lore. During the aforementioned 2016 championship run, it was Torres who stepped up to the spot during Seattle’s penalty kick shootout against Toronto FC with a chance to clinch the Sounders’ first-ever MLS Cup win. Using a short run-up, he managed to get TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin to dive the wrong direction before drilling his shot into the net to give the Sounders the shootout victory and their first championship.
He has commemorative tattoos of his big goals
Torres has covered himself in tattoos over his long career playing professional soccer, but his most recent ink since joining the Sounders commemorate those two historic tallies. The first is a self-portrait of him hoisting the MLS Cup trophy the night of his penalty kick winner.
The next spells out ‘October 10, 2017’ in roman numerals – in honor of his national holiday-creating World Cup qualifying goal.
He’s not small
At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Torres is currently listed as the heaviest player on any World Cup roster. But don’t let that fool you. On a Sounders team that features two of the more physically gifted raw athletes in MLS in forward Jordan Morris and freight-train left back Nouhou, Torres could still make his case as the most impressive physical specimen on the roster, combining that height and weight with incredible speed and athleticism for his size. That impressive build, combined with his nimble and fluid footwork, are what allow him to continue to keep pace with some of the league’s dynamic attackers, while also providing a devastating physical presence beside Marshall.
“He could play a lot sports,” Schmetzer once said of Torres. “We’re happy he plays soccer.”
His daughter won’t let him get a haircut
Torres’ original plan was to cut his easily identifiable free-flowing dreadlocks after Panama qualified for the World Cup, but following his clinching goal, that plan ended up getting nixed by his daughter. MLS has seen some great hair over the years, from Kyle Beckerman to Dominic Oduro to DeAndre Yedlin, but Torres has a solid argument that he should be considered in that elite tier. Whether he keeps his now-trademark look through this summer’s run in Russia, or whether any haircut-related plans get overruled again, remains to be seen.