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Torres after scoring the winning penalty

Seattle's Panamanian hero steps up to notch decisive penalty

Seattle's Panamanian hero steps up to notch decisive penalty

Roman Torres, the giant Seattle Sounders defender from Panama City, delivers his team their first ever Major League Soccer title. Cuban-born Osvaldo Alonso also plays captain's role.

Torres after scoring the winning penalty
Torres after scoring the winning penalty

It was the biggest moment, in MLS’s biggest game, and it took a big man to deal with it.

After Saturday’s MLS Cup final, at a freezing but packed BMO Field had ended goalless after extra-time, a penalty

Some players shy away from penalty shoot-out duties, others can be frozen by fear, but Roman Torres, the giant Seattle Sounders defender from Panama City, strode up to the spot with purpose and blasted it home to win his team their first ever MLS title.

His coach Brian Schmetzer certainly never had any doubts that Torres would have the confidence to deal with the pressure.

"He will tell you, if you ask him, that he was a forward growing up," Schmetzer said when I asked him about Torres. "We don't know if we believe that story, but he swears that he was a forward when he was growing up in Panama.”

So confident was Torres in his finishing ability that he had lobbied to be one of the five nominated penalty-takers.

Todos los penales con los que Seattle Sounders se coronó campeón de la MLS Univision Deportes Network

"Roman wanted to be one of the first five, but I didn't want to jinx ourselves and say 'OK, we have six, seven and eight.' We handed out the first five and then we were trying to signal onto the field, we were trying to go 2-9, 2-9 for Roman," Schmetzer said. "We got that message across and he was happy to step forward."

On Tuesday, the Sounders will be paraded through the streets of Seattle in similar fashion to their NFL brothers, the Seahawks, when they won the Super Bowl in 2014 and there will surely be special cheers for the only Sounder who would not look out of place in the Seahawks defensive line.

At 6 feet two inches tall, with an imposing physique and a wild hair-cut, Torres always stands out on the field but what won him plaudits on Saturday was the way he organised an impressive Seattle defence as they largely nullified the threat posed by Toronto’s much-heralded forward line of Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

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Torres was dominant in the air, strong in the tackle, showed his experience and football intelligence with his positioning and reading of play and alongside Chad Marshall helped ensure that the game was one dominated by defences.

On one of the few occasions when Toronto did find a clear opening, in injury time when Tosaint Ricketts broke down the right and crossed to Altidore, Seattle keeper Stefan Frei pulled off a save, reaching back to palm the ball away, that will surely define his career.

Torres, who has played 99 times for his country’s national team and spent most of his career with Colombian clubs, signed for Seattle last August as the club from the Pacific North-West looked to add the missing pieces needed for a real title run.

His impact was immediate but after just a month in the ‘Rave Green’ Torres suffered an ACL knee injury and was sidelined for the best part of a year. It was perhaps not a coincidence that after his return to fitness this season, the Sounders turned a mediocre season into a championship winning one.

It may have been a game played in near-Arctic conditions, but it was a night for tough Hispanic players, with Seattle’s Cuban-born Osvaldo Alonso showing his unbreakable spirit as he captained the team to the victory.

Osvaldo Alonso Seattle Sounders
Osvaldo Alonso Seattle Sounders

Alonso had picked up a knee injury in the Conference final win over the Colorado Rapids and was officially designated as ‘questionable’ for the final but the shaven-headed 31-year-old was not going to sit out a game of this import.

After a slow start, the man from San Cristobal, delivered the kind of performance that has made him a crowd favourite in Seattle - winning tackles, breaking up attacks and getting the counter-attacks under-way with simple but effective passing.

If Torres is the commander in chief at the back, Alonso is the midfield general, enforcing his will on proceedings and frustrating opposition schemes.

Alonso defected to the United States in June 2007 when he was with the Cuban national team for a game against Honduras in Houston, Texas. The team was doing some shopping at a Walmart when Alonso snuck out, walked down the street, borrowed a cell-phone from a friendly Spanish-speaker and called a friend in Miami.

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Schmetzer said that while the shaven-headed Alonso had to take pain-killing shots before the game and in the interval, his ambition and courage allowed him to play a crucial role.

"His determination on half a leg because he has a pulled tendon in his knee, it's just a testament on how much Ozzie wants to win and I can’t be any more proud or happy that he’s in our club.

”Ozzie was never going to not play in this game. And that’s a testament to how tough he is. He had to get an injection, he had another injection at halftime just to keep himself in game. He’s just tough as nails,” added the Sounders coach.

For goalkeeper Frei, hailed as the hero and voted the final’s MVP, Alonso’s commitment, despite his injury, was never in question.

“I think you would have had to chop his leg off for him not to try. Some players might try and then just go through the motions but when Ozzie sets his mind on something he’s going to go 110 percent. Even with a banged up knee he’s still going into 50-50 tackles and busting his butt and we needed it to get all the way to PKs. I’m super proud of him.”

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