VANCOUVER, B.C. – The waiting is almost over. The 2018 World Cup gets underway in a month's time and players around the world are finding out this week if their World Cup dreams are still alive and kicking, as countries reveal their provisional rosters for this summer's tournament in Russia.
There's even more anticipation in Panama. This will be the country's first World Cup finals and everyone wants to be a part of it. Unfortunately, only 23 players can.
Canaleros head coach Hernan Gomez named his provisional 35-man roster on Monday. A final decision on who will be heading to Russia will be made by the June 4 deadline, meaning an anxious wait for the seven MLS players named on that provisional squad.
Among that number are two San Jose Earthquakes, defender Harold Cummings and midfielder Anibal Godoy. Both are veterans of the Panamanian national team, and although both are excited by the prospect of playing in Russia this summer, neither of them are counting their chickens just yet.
"It's always good to be called up to your national team," Cummings told MLSsoccer.com through a translator after Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. "It's always great when the coach counts on you as a player, but this is only a first step. The final step is getting named to the final 23 man roster for the World Cup and hopefully I can get that done."
That view is echoed by his teammate Godoy.
"At this moment they have 35 players," Godoy cautioned. "It's not the final roster, that's why I need to do more to make the final 23 players to go the World Cup. But I feel excited because every player wants to go the World Cup for sure. It'll be a good fight before the World Cup, for all players in the 35 have the hunger to go there. This is why in this moment it's going to be difficult to get it down to the 23 players."
It's wise to be guarded about their chances. There will be 12 very disappointed players missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime. But that doesn't mean Cummings and Godoy can't look ahead and dream of taking to the pitch for their country in Russia next month.
They have over 100 caps for their country between them and both made their debut for the national team in 2010. It's been a long wait to step onto the world's stage with Panama, and naturally it would mean the world to both of them.
"That's why you compete, that's why you play," Cummings said. "To get that dream of a World Cup. Unfortunately I wasn't part of the Hex [Concacaf Hexagonal qualifying round] last year because of injury, but now I'm feeling good, feeling healthy, and the coach has been counting on me. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
Panama have been drawn into Group G alongside Belgium, England and Tunisia. Getting past the group stages would be an achievement in itself; going even further would be entering dream territory. It's easy to get carried away, especially in a soccer-mad country like Panama, but Cummings is trying to keep some of those expectations in check.
For him, this World Cup appearance is setting the foundations for future ones.
"We're the youngest nation there, in some ways, in going to the World Cup," Cummings said. "It's our first experience in going. We're going to go there to work hard, to compete, to try and get some results, but we're also going to learn. Then hopefully this can become a thing and we can go to more World Cups. We want to win the games, but if we don't, it'll be a great learning experience for all of us."
No matter how Panama do in their three group games, the atmosphere in the country during the tournament is going to be electric, and the excitement is already in full flow with a month to go.
"It's the first time so more people are wanting to enjoy the World Cup," Godoy said. "At this moment the country is crazy [for it]. They're waiting for the first game against Belgium in June 18. Everybody has got flags on their car, in their home they have a big flag. Everybody's excited because the people know this is the first time.
"I don't know if it's possible that we'll go to Qatar in 2022. You never know. Now is the moment to enjoy because it's the first time. It's history for the country. That is why the people in the country are saying enjoy, enjoy. This is also the spirit for us and for all teammates in the team."