It was two very different nights for a pair of Seattle Sounders teammates. While Clint Dempsey and the U.S. national team were stunned by the 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago that knocked them out of a spot in next year’s World Cup, Roman Torres celebrated on the field with Panama.
Torres scored the go-ahead goal in the 88th minute that gave Panama a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica and the nation’s first-ever World Cup berth. Dempsey, 34 was trying to make his fourth World Cup. The United States will miss out on soccer’s premier tournament for the first time since 1986.
Even a defeat could have earned the Americans a berth, but only if Panama and Honduras both lost. And if the U.S. and only one of those rivals were beaten, the Americans would have finished fourth and advanced to a playoff next month against Australia.
Honduras defeated Mexico 3-2 and Torres got the game-winner for Panama to seal the Americans’ fate. Panama’s win was not without controversy: The team’s first goal in the 52nd minute did not appear to cross the goal line.
Torres, 31, made his debut with Panama’s senior national team in 2005 and has 103 caps. He’s been key to the team during qualifying, scoring the late equalizer in a 2-2 draw with Honduras in June.
A sturdy 6-foot-2 defender, Torres was an integral part of the Sounders’ championship season last year. A leg injury kept him out of the lineup until late August, but he quickly regained form as Seattle went undefeated in seven of their last eight regular-season games.
He is easily best remembered for the winning penalty kick against Toronto to give the Sounders their first MLS Cup. Torres doffed his jersey following Tuesday night’s victory as the crowd in Panama chanted “We are going to Russia!” The next day’s cover of Mi Diario in Panama read “Gracias Roman!”
Panama President Juan Carlos Varela declared Wednesday a national holiday in the wake of the victory. “This seemed like a dream, like a fantasy, but I never lost hope,” Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez said afterward.
In all, Major League Soccer has 73 different countries represented on its rosters. Twelve of those nations have either made the World Cup field or are still vying for a spot.
Panama has five other MLS players on its roster: Armando Cooper (Toronto), Fidel Escobar and Michal Murillo (Red Bulls), Anibal Godoy (San Jose) and Adolfo Machado (Houston).
“We knew that we couldn’t fail,” Machado said. “Four years ago, we saw the world come crashing down on us and today we arrived with faith and conviction that we could do it.”
Panama was knocked out of the 2014 Brazil World Cup with a 3-2 loss to the United States on the final day of qualifying. Some of the league’s other players that could head to Russia in 2018:
COSTA RICA: The country has a league-high nine MLS players that have appeared in 2017, more than any other national team. They are: Christian Bolanos and Kendall Watson (Vancouver), Francisco Calvo and Johan Venegas (Minnesota), David Guzman and Roy Miller (Portland), Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace (NYCFC) and Marco Urena (San Jose).
Costa Rica was already assured of a spot in the World Cup field before the loss to Panama on Tuesday night.
HOUSTON-HONDURAS CONNECTION: Three players on the Houston Dynamo play for Honduras: Forwards Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, along with midfielder Boniek Garcia.
Los Catrachos will face Australia in a two-legged playoff in November. Quioto made it possible with a goal in the 60th minute that would prove to be the game-winner over Mexico. Garcia, meanwhile, is a veteran for Honduras, with 114 career caps.
ANOTHER SOUNDER: Attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro was used as a reserve in Uruguay’s 4-2 victory over Bolivia. The Uruguayans finished in second place in the CONMEBOL standings behind Brazil for a World Cup berth. Additionally, Gustav Svensson plays for Sweden, which has yet to qualify.
BROTHERS AND TEAMMATES: Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos play for both the LA Galaxy and Mexico, which solidified its World Cup bid last month with a victory over Panama.
FEEL-GOOD RETURN: David Villa returned to Spain’s roster for a match last month after a three-year absence from the national team. But he was not included for the team’s final two qualifiers because of injury.
It remains to be seen if Villa will be included in preparations for Russia, but if he makes the final roster it will be his fourth World Cup.
“I’ve always said that I remained hopeful of returning,” Villa told The Associated Press at Spain’s training center in Madrid in September. “But I was realistic and I knew that it would be difficult considering all the quality forwards that were available to play for Spain.”