Panama hoping to change Gold Cup dynamic
By Ivan Orozco

HOUSTON - Panama's Blas Perez talked about change.

He spoke about changing the perception about Central American teams. The 30-year-old striker said it is time for a different nation other than the United States and Mexico to be considered a favorite in CONCACAF.

That nation should be a Central American nation or one from the Caribbean. He might even want Canada.

Perez hoped Panama, which made the final in 2005 only to lose to the Americans on penalties, would become the team that could challenge the United States and Mexico for a Gold Cup title.

Perez and his countrymen will have to wait another two years to achieve that goal after losing to the Americans in the knockout round of the Gold Cup for the fourth straight time.

"The distance between the giants is short," Panama manager Julio Dely Valdes said after Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the United States in the semifinals. "I think Panama has demonstrated it is a very competitive team. This serves as good experience heading into the (World Cup) qualifiers."

The United States and Mexico have won nine of the 10 Gold Cup titles between them and will play each other in the title match for a fifth time on Saturday. It's a dynamic Perez would like to change.

"The United States and Mexico have never faced each other in a quarterfinal or any of those (knockout games)," said Perez, who did not play against Wednesday because of a red-card suspension.

"You can see that every year this competition is held, Mexico and the United States are in (the final). We have to break that. We must work for that. Panama has done it before."

Panama reached the Gold Cup final in 2005 where it lost to the United States.

Panama was eliminated with Wednesday's loss, revenge for the United States which "Los Canaleros" beat 2-1 11 days earlier in the group stage.

Panama may not have reached the final, but it came away with other achievements. It reached the semifinals for the third time in five tries and beat the United States for the first time in nine tries dating back to 1993. It also handed the Americans their first loss in the group stage of the Gold Cup.

It will look to the positives when it regroups for World Cup qualifying. The Central American nation also needs change in that category. It has never qualified for a World Cup.

The closest it got to a berth was in 2006 when it reached the final round of qualifying. Panama is 67th in the monthly FIFA World Rankings.

Panama has had some success internationally, but it has been limited to Central America. It won the Copa Centroamericana in 2009.

At the Gold Cup, Panama allowed more than one goal in a game only once, in a 3-2 opening victory over Guadeloupe. But it was limited to one goal against Canada and El Salvador, and then was shut out by the United States.

Despite the elimination, Valdes said his team showed enough to be considered a true contender within CONCACAF.

"Honestly, we performed better than what I had hoped for," Valdes said. "I knew that our group in the Gold Cup was complicated, but our team knew how to move on and finished first in our group and we continued to show strong performances. I leave here content with what my team provided."