On October 10, 2017, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team lost to Panama in a World Cup qualifier. The U.S. team went on to lose its next two games and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Oct. 10, 2017 was a day that will forever be remembered for American soccer. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) played Panama in the Gold Cup final at their home stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more in detail here: american soccer.
Anibal Godoy recalls his impulse to locate his family in the single second that altered Panamanian soccer forever. However, while his mind attempted to comprehend Roman Torres’ 88th-minute goal against Costa Rica, which placed Panama in position to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, he saw his teammate sprinting for the corner and chased him down.
“He’s tough to catch right now,” Godoy told ESPN. “Because it’s such an incredible sensation for him and everyone else. If you ask everyone in Panama what their favorite football moment is, they would tell you it’s Roman Torres’ goal.”
Euphoria has the ability to alter one’s perception of time. The truth is that Godoy jumped on Torres’ shirtless back in a matter of seconds, leaving one of the most iconic pictures of a celebration that resonated well beyond Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez and across the Central American country.
The shouts died down, and an anxious hum replaced them. Panama’s first-ever World Cup ticket wouldn’t be punched until the other CONCACAF scores stayed constant — and memories of 2014 came flooding back. Panama was minutes away from forcing a World Cup playoff match against New Zealand four years ago, only to be knocked out of contention after conceding a late goal against the United States.
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The following ten minutes of real time felt like an eternity, but the results held, including the US’ notorious 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama was on its way to Russia. Euphoria swept the streets of Panama City and beyond, with the faces of American players still gleaming from tears poured in grieving the fact that they would not compete in a World Cup for the first time since 1986.
President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama proclaimed the next day a national holiday at midnight. Varela said on Twitter, in a translation from Spanish: “Celebrate Panama’s historic day because the people’s voice has been heard. Tomorrow is a national holiday in the United States.”
It didn’t seem to matter to the Panamanians, who partied all night, but the game wasn’t without controversy. The goal that tied the game at 1-1 in the 52nd minute did not cross the line on replay, and there was no way to overturn the decision on the field without goal-line technology or a Video Assistant Referee.
It’s hard to tell how the game would have ended if that goal had not been scored. Although the idea of deleting the greatest moment in Panamanian soccer history sounds harsh, it’s absolutely conceivable that Panama might still have won.
Instead, it was US Soccer’s past that needed to be erased at that point. The Americans’ failure to qualify for their first World Cup in 32 years was guaranteed by a combination of their loss in Couva and Panama’s win, setting in motion a period of soul searching, rethinking, and rebuilding the men’s national team that is still not complete four years later.
Torres, who was then playing club soccer for the Seattle Sounders, was eternally immortalized in his homeland.
“It’s pure joy. Panamanians are very fortunate as a result of what occurred “When Torres arrived to Seattle, he spoke via an interpreter. “It’s something we’ve been working on for quite some time now. It was a watershed event in the history of our country and our national team.”
For Godoy, who then played in Major League Soccer with the San Jose Earthquakes and has since moved to Nashville SC, being a part of such a momentous event is still strange.
“People have been weeping for a week,” he added. “People didn’t believe us when we said we were going to the World Cup because we couldn’t afford to attend. We need to compete with the major national teams, such as the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Everyone knows how difficult CONCACAF is, and for us, that moment was a huge celebration for the whole nation.”
Panama was outscored 11-2 and lost all three of its matches in Russia (against Belgium, England, and Tunisia), but the significance of their presence cannot be overstated. Baseball has long been regarded as the country’s national sport, but Godoy claims this is no longer the case.
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Godoy, maybe more than anybody else on the Panamanian side, understands what to anticipate from the US. He was pleased by the American youth system and saw personally how several U.S. players, such as Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson, who led the USMNT over Jamaica on Thursday night, were nurtured inside MLS on their route to more important positions with the national team.
Despite the presence of European and Major League Soccer players on the squad, Godoy believes Panama will win on Sunday.
“This is a very crucial game for us since [El Salvador] played away, and we also play away against Canada in the final game [in the October window],” Godoy said. “We only have one game at home, which is against the United States. This is the game we need to win because we know we need to win at home to qualify for the World Cup.”
Panama’s most recent win against the US occurred in the 2015 Gold Cup, when it triumphed 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Panama has only beaten the United States once in 23 meetings, a 2-1 victory at the 2011 Gold Cup.
Despite the fact that the two sides were not playing each other on that October night in 2017, Panama’s win and the USMNT’s loss were more significant than any match between them. The meeting between Panama and the United States on Sunday will commemorate the four-year anniversary of that event, and both sides will remember it for different reasons.