Action from the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup final between Panama (red jersey) and the United States at Soldier Field in Chicago. (Photo: Mexsport)
PHILADELPHIA -- Having its dreams of reaching the last World Cup squelched at the 11th hour in 2013, Panama begins preparing for the road to Russia 2018 with the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Head coach Hernan Dario Gomez, who took the managerial reins more than a year ago, believes his players have gotten over the disappointment of failing to reach Brazil 2014.
"I'm sure there's other players with experience who have the capacity that allows them to believe in themselves and they continue to work with a lot of professionalism," said the Colombian. "We come here with the hope that we can give it our all in this tournament. The dream is to make it to the next World Cup."
Before the Panamanians commence that journey, they will participate in the Gold Cup, facing Group A opponents Haiti (July 7 in Frisco, Texas), the winner of a playoff between Honduras and French Guiana (July 10 in Foxborough, Massachusetts) and the defending champion United States (July 13 in Kansas City, Kansas).
Gomez realizes the group could be tricky to navigate.
"Football has become very even-handed," he said. "It's very hard to pick favorites now."
The Canaleros fell 1-0 to the USA in the 2013 final, but are the only team to beat the Americans in group play, manufacturing a memorable 2-1 win in Tampa, Florida in 2011.
"It actually motivates us," Gomez stressed. “And now with that half ticket available and a chance to play the United States, we're now more motivated."
Gomez was talking about the fact that if a team other than the U.S. wins this Gold Cup, it will play the Americans in a playoff for the right to represent CONCACAF at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
"Panama has good players who have good experience," the 59-year-old continued. "Now they're even playing here in the league in the United States. When we play games against teams like Mexico, it's always very even. We're just a step away from doing big things."
Those big things include reaching the World Cup.
"It's a dream," Gomez finished. "It would change a lot of things, even the lives in Panama socially. That would be the maximum. We would change everything to go to the World Cup."