On Monday, 24 hours before their 2018 World Cup Qualifying match against Panama, the U.S. Men’s National Team went through their final preparations inside Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City.
Built in 1970, the stadium was originally named Estadio Revolución but the name was changed in 1993 in honor of Rommel Fernandez, a Panamanian footballer that tragically died in a car accident in Spain in May of that year.
Remodeled in 2009 and now with more than 30,000 seats, the stadium is the largest in Panama and will undoubtedly be packed to the brim on Tuesday night.
Before the chaos, U.S. Soccer asked team photographer John Dorton to provide fans back home in the United States with a unique look at the historic venue.
Check out Dorton’s personal photographic tour.
Before we go in, here’s the obligatory scene setting shot of Estadio Rommel Fernández. The one thing I find so interesting is how unique these stadiums are in Central America – a lot different than some of the similar ones you see in the United States.
Minutes after walking into the stadium for training, there’s a lot of people milling around. Stadium staff. Panama media. U.S. media. Players. Coaches.
And a cat.
Spoiler alert: This is not the only time we see our Panamanian feline today.
Just before entering the field, there are two plaques in honor of Rommel Fernández. Only 27, “El Panzer” played for the Panama National Team from 1986-1992.
The majority of fans will enter through the gate in the picture above. I loved the light coming through and making shadows on the cement of the concourse.
Once fans get inside, they will find their way to their seats by walking up the large, long ramps inside the concourse of the stadium. The shadows, angles and unique lines make for some great imagery that stands out when it’s quiet.
The U.S. MNT’s locker room for the night. The room is small, but includes nice wooden lockers.
Connected next to the locker area is a room about the same size with turf that provides the players with a place to warm-up. While I’ve never seen one in the U.S., you see these rooms in a lot of soccer stadiums in other countries.
As the players leave the locker room and turn right to head to the field, they’re welcomed by pictures of Panamanian stars -- it's pretty cool imagery. The light reflecting off the pictures almost makes it look like they’re real.
If players look to the left while in the tunnel, they’ll get a sneak peak of the field (and on gameday the packed stadium) through the mosaic wall. I loved how you could see one of our ‘keepers during training through one of the gaps.
Between the U.S. and Panama locker rooms is the stadium administration office. Our friendly stadium cat came out of nowhere and snuck in the office as I happened to take this photo.
On a bunch of the doors in the stadium there are these unique signs that include pictures to indicate what or whom the room is for. This one I understood, which wasn’t too hard with the large number of police around the stadium as usual when we play at away locations in World Cup Qualifying.
The local police watching closely. These guys are always impressive to see at work.
Simple sticker on the back of the player’s bench shields, but thought it was cool how it indicates the importance of the game and you could see the team training in the background.
Having a few adult beverages is normal at a big sporting event. They were still preparing the kegs for the next day and I came across a few that were in a random location in the concourse.
The one thing you noticed inside the stadium was the amazing number of air conditioners. With temperatures in the 80s and 90s, and more than 30,000 Panama fans, my guess is it will still be hot in the stadium.
Came across these player stand-ins under the stadium. While the norm nowadays is to use plastic versions, these worn, heavy steel versions reminded me of the old days. Not sure if they’re still used by anyone, but I wouldn’t want to carry them to the field.
Having laundry on site at the stadium makes sense. Panama’s equipment manager was doing a load of wash in preparation for tomorrow when we walked by.
There were banners up already for the game, including this one that dominated one end line. You’re also able to see a closer look at the track that surrounds the field.
Really cool to see the country’s name on the seats. A true national stadium.
There are a few different styles of seats throughout the stadium. I liked how these looked tucked up against each other.
I love taking these wide shots when the team is training in the stadium. Such a cool look. Everywhere we go, I always try to get this shot.
I took this shot from the top of the stadium out a window that was opened in a stairwell. Great view back towards the city, with the Panama Federation offices in the foreground.
Last picture of the cat. He appeared to be worn out. He wasn’t the only one.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup