By Ivan Orozco
SEATTLE -- If the Panama team that beat Mexico last Sunday was considered green then, “ La Marea Roja” ripened a little Tuesday.
Veteran Blas Perez joined his Panama teammates for a morning practice at CenturyLink Field. He comes to the CONCACAF Gold Cup after missing Panama’s historic 2-1 win over Mexico Sunday in Pasadena, California. The forward agreed to remain with his club, Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, for a match against the LA Galaxy that was only a few dozen miles away at the StubHub Center (formerly the Home Depot Center) in Carson.
“I was warming up when I saw that they had scored on a penalty kick,” Perez said of the Gold Cup match. “Then the sporting director told me we had taken the lead in the second half. It was nice to know we won. It’s nice to be back.”
Perez participated in the warm-up drills before Tuesday’s practice, of which only the first 15 minutes were open to the media. The 13-year national team veteran, spoke with reporters afterwards.
“I am here available for my team. I want to play the 90 minutes but the coach decides,” said the 32-year-old, who is participating in his fourth Gold Cup. “The team is doing well. I have to wait my turn.”
That turn may come as early as Thursday against Martinique in the first game of a Group A doubleheader. Mexico faces Canada in the second match.
Panama is coming off its first-ever win against Mexico in any official competition, giving the Central American nation a confidence boost heading into its match against the Caribbean side. The team appeared to be in a relaxed mood at the start of Tuesday’s practice.
A group of players ran around in circles chasing one another, play fighting near midfield. There were kicks on the rear, slaps on top of the head; smiles and laughs were plenty. Once the media was asked to leave the field, Panama went to work.
“We are working our best to not be overconfidence,” Panama defender Juan Perez said. “Mexico is in the past and we are looking into Martinique. We didn’t see much of them but we know they are a strong team. You have to respect every team. We know they came to win and if you want to advance in this tournament, you have to respect your opponent.”
Perez likes that the younger players are respecting what veterans have to say.
“The team is here to wok. It listens to the coach and the veteran players,” he said. “That is motivating to see those youngsters listen to the older guys. Panama has grown in every aspect. The new players and the veterans are benefiting from it. They get a chance to showcase what they can do here on this team.“
Blas Perez adds firepower to Panama’s attack. He has scored 29 times in 79 international games. It could be intriguing to see him paired with up-and-coming striker Gabriel Torres, who scored both goals against Mexico.
“Gaby is going through a good moment and I am happy for him," Perez said. “He had been waiting for this opportunity.”
Torres was called to the Gold Cup after a strong showing in the Venezuelan 2013 Clausura. He was the league’s leading scorer with 20 goals while playing for league champion Zamora FC.
The addition of Perez, Torres’ scoring capability and Alberto Quintero’s nose for feeding strikers fluid passes from midfield could prove to be strength for coach Julio Dely Valdes’ team.
Perez and his teammates, though, are not looking too far ahead.
“Mexico is in the past. We can’t live in the past,” he said. “Martinique is in our sights now. We have to remain grounded. We haven’t won anything yet.”
By Ivan Orozco