It was a golden rule. Whenever a club signed Roman Torres, they would taste glory in his first season. Needless to say, then, that when the Panamanian defender departed Colombia in 2015 – having amassed nine trophies during his time there – he fully intended to take his Midas touch with him to MLS outfit Seattle Sounders.
However, life had other plans and his American adventure would be halted almost before it had got started. "I was really raring to show what I'm all about and why they'd brought me in," he told FIFA.com, "but unfortunately I got injured."
"When I went down I was in a lot of pain, but I honestly didn't think it was anything too severe because I was able to walk off the pitch. Afterwards I travelled back and had a scan, and when the doctor told me that I'd torn practically all of my ligaments, that I'd have to undergo surgery and it'd take me eight or nine months to recover, it was like my world came crashing down. I'd never had such a serious injury before," said Torres, looking back to the fateful day when he was laid low, in a match against San Jose Earthquakes in September 2015.
Patience and persistence
In the end, he would spend 11 long months on the sidelines. During that period, tinged with loneliness and sadness, not only did his hopes vanish of being crowned a champion with the Sounders in his maiden season with the club, but he also missed most of the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Following his country's fortunes as a spectator proved a real ordeal for the Panama captain, accustomed as he was to being the guiding force in the Canaleros dressing room, he continued to contribute from a distance: "It's difficult watching games on TV, knowing that you can't be there to help out, but I always sought to send the squad positive energy. I was in constant contact with them; we'd speak by chat and the conversations would fill them with motivation. I also got the chance to travel with them, which really helped me to pull through."
The recovery process was painful in several senses for the 30-year-old. However, he never admitted defeat, instead drawing on the resolve and discipline instilled in him by his father, a man who strove tirelessly to provide for his family and improve their lot.
"I learnt from my dad never to give up. As a kid he taught me that you've got to struggle to get what you want. There were times when I was alone and my family was far away in Panama. I had to be really strong; I prayed and spoke to God a lot to find the strength. I gradually made progress, although there were nights when I'd cry because I knew I still had a long time to go without being able to do what I love. But every day I dug in and drove myself towards the goal of pushing on and recovering."
A joyous comeback
This past August, he was finally given the all-clear to return to action. Slowly but surely he worked his way back to full sharpness, building up his confidence to enable him to once again produce the commanding displays with which he is synonymous. Now, three months on, he is buzzing to be in the Panama picture for the latest set of Russia 2018 qualifiers.
"I'm over the moon to be back out on the pitch, doing what makes me feel most fulfilled in life. I'm overjoyed that we're through to the Hexagonal [the six-team final round of CONCACAF qualifying] and challenging for a place at the World Cup," said the veteran, who made his Canaleros bow 11 years ago.
Having gained a second wind, the stopper is not dwelling on being denied the opportunity to add to his aforementioned run of debut-season silverware at club level. On the contrary, he is focused instead on breaking new ground on the international stage by reaching the global extravaganza, one of the few things he has failed to do to date in his distinguished career.
"It's crunch time now. We've got to be well prepared for the upcoming games, which are going to be hard-fought and tricky. The Panamanian national team are in good shape – we've got good players and things are working well for us. We hope to continue in the same vein. We've got to carry on trying to take our chances up front and keeping clean sheets at the back. Only by doing that will we achieve our target."
Panama know what it feels like to fall at the last hurdle before the World Cup and Torres is determined not to experience that disappointment again. He is adamant that they will go all the way on this occasion and believes they can take another step forward in their next outing, when they host Mexico: "We've got to make home advantage count. Mexico have got some great players and they know we're a good side too.
"It's going to be a very important match, but we've got to capitalise on the home factor and get what would be three vital points for us. If we win all our home matches, we're through to the World Cup." If Torres and his team-mates can deliver on those words, the agony of the defensive linchpin's lengthy lay-off will truly be water under the bridge.