Gold Cup Team Preview: Panama / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Panama has grown over the last few years from a being a small country that could, to being a very strong CONCACAF side that could steal the show away from what is a growing expectation of a Mexico-United States showdown. A couple of years ago in 2013 Gold Cup they upset Mexico not once but twice and found a way to get back to the final for the second time in a decade.

They're not a powerhouse with elite players but have a lot of solid role players that understand what needs to happen to cultivate a style that enables them to be successful. A team that isn't always pretty but does all the little things to win balls and give them the best chance at winning the match.

How did they get here?
Panama qualified through the Central American zone placing third in the 2014 Copa Centroamericana. They were narrowly nudged out of first place in their group by Costa Rica on goal differential. Forcing them to the third place game where they beat El Salvador 1-0. 

Group A
CountryAvg AgeAvg CapsELOrankFIFArank
USA 27.2 30.5 14 27
Panama 26.7 34.8 38 54
Honduras 26 30 76 75
Haiti 26.7 22 97 76

What Group are they in?
They are in Group A, along with Haiti, the United States, and Honduras. The winner of the group will play the Group B/C third place team, the runner-up will play the Group B winner and third place will be weighted against other third place teams for the chance to play the Group C winner.

Group Stage Schedule
DateTime (ET)CityVenueHomeAway
07-Jul 7:00PM Frisco Toyota Stadium PAN HAI
10-Jul 6:00PM Foxborough Gillette Stadium HON PAN
13-Jul 9:30PM Kansas City Sporting Park PAN USA

How are they are ranked?
ELO: 38, rating 1700 FIFA: 54
There is a good bit of disparity between how good people generally think Panama is and how good Panama actually is. This is probably due to a propensity of stumbling in bigger moments while mostly taking care of business consistently. 

Who is their Head Coach?
Hernán Darío Gómez Jaramillo
, aka El Bolillo, a former midfielder with Colombia's Atlético Nacional but is most notably known as the Colombian national team manager who hit an unidentified women which lead to his resignation in 2011. He was hired by Panama in 2014, replacing Julio Dely Valdés who had delivered some huge results to include nearly qualifying for the World Cup, which would have been a first for Panama.

Who is on their Gold Cup Roster?

PlayerPositionTeam Club CountryAgeCaps
Jose Calderon GK Coatepeque Guatemala 29 10
Luis Mejia GK Fénix Uruguay 24 12
Jaime Penedo GK LA Galaxy USA 33 103
Angel Patrick D Árabe Unido Panama 23 1
Harold Cummings D Santa Fe Colombia 23 31
Erick Davis D Sporting San Miguelito Panama 24 17
Luis Henriquez D Lech Poznań Poland 33 75
Adolfo Machado D Saprissa Costa Rica 30 20
Roman Torres D Millonarios Colombia 29 7
Miguel Camargo M Águila El Salvador 21 4
Armando Cooper M St. Pauli Germany 27 52
Gabriel Gomez M Herediano Costa Rica 31 108
Anibal Godoy M Honvéd Budapest 25 49
Valentin Pimentel M Plaza Amador Panama 24 2
Darwin Pinzon M Sporting San Miguelito Panama 21 6
Alberto Quintero M BUAP Mexico 27 52
Alfredo Stephens M Chorrillo Panama 20 5
Abdiel Arroyo F Árabe Unido Panama 21 2
Rolando Blackburn F Comunicaciones Guatemala 25 13
Roberto Nurse F Sinaloa Mexico 31 10
Blas Perez F FC Dallas USA 34 91
Luis Tejada F Juan Aurich Peru 33 80
Gabriel Torres F Colorado Rapids USA 26 50

What is the Avg Age/Caps of the team?
The squad's average age 26.7 good for sixth in the Gold Cup tournament. Don't be deceived at the fact the team is sitting middle of the road in terms of age. If you take away the old forwards (specifically Blas Perez, 34 and Luis Tejada, 33) the age median drops tremendously.
The squad's average cap per player is 34.8, good for first in the Gold Cup tournament. This may be a young team but it's experienced. Gabby Torres, Alberto Quintero and Armando Cooper are all 26-27 years old and have more than 50 caps. This isn't just about one or two guys throwing off the curve this is a group with a young and experienced core that are about to start entering their prime.

Who are the important players that I should know?
Jaime Peneda
(GK) – Pineda has the second highest cap count in their country's history and is a great keeper for MLS' best team the last two seasons, the LA Galaxy. He might be 33 but his age has yet to become an issue.

Román Torres (DEF) – Torres is a staple of Millonarios defense from Colombia's first division. One of the top clubs in the league and a consistent fighter for Copa Libertadores. He with Peneda are a bit part of why their defense is so good.

Gabriel Gómez (MID) – The most capped player in Panama history, Gomez is a huge piece for CONCACAF Champions League club Herediano and Costa Rica's third most winnest club of the Primera División. You may remember him from his one year stint with the Philadelphia Union where he scored the teams first goal of the 2012 season (with some help from Andrew Jean-Baptiste)

Blas Perez (FWD) – Blas Perez, aka Super Raton, is a lot of things to a lot of people who watch MLS. Mostly a villain but to a select city he is a hero and a fighter. In his four seasons at FC Dallas he has compiled roughly 27 expected goals (xG) through 7,500+ minutes. He's been a huge with contributions at both the Club and International level and if Panama wants a chance at another final Perez needs to be a big part of the solution.

What have they done in the past?
2013: Lost to United States in Finals, came in ranked 51st in FIFA. 
2011: Lost to United States in Semi-Finals 0-1, came in ranked 65th in FIFA
2009: Lost to United States in Quarter-Finals 1-2, came in ranked 69th in FIFA
2007: Lost to United States in Quarter-Finals 1-2, came in ranked 57th in FIFA

What do we expect from them this go around?
You gotta think that they love the idea of getting a sure-fire shot at the US at least once over the course of this competition. But they're no longer the dark horse they were the last few times coming into the Gold Cup. This time around people aren't going to underestimate them. But being in the same group as the US and Honduras means that they're likely to all beat up on each other.
Will all due respect to Haiti, I'm not sure anyone has them down for a win or even a draw for all three games, meaning that winning the group will probably take around seven points and the third place team could have as many as four points and come down to goal difference. It helps that Honduras has struggled in the last year, and on top of things they didn't even call in their strongest team.

I believe Panama will be a runner-up for the group though, considering all that internalized frustration with the United States, they could very well win the group too. But El Bolillo has his hands full with expectations, likely at a bare minimum, to make the semi-finals and really even the hopes for a second straight finals appearance.