Perez still going strong for Panama

Panama's Blas Perez (pictured) during a training session for the CONCACAF Gold Cup on July 6, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. (Photo: Mexsport)

FRISCO, Texas -- When it comes to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Blas Perez could be called the King of Goals.

The veteran Panamanian striker is third all-time with 10 goals over the course of four tournaments. Perez, however, insists there’s no secret to his success.

“Each Gold Cup is different,” he told in an exclusive interview. “In my case, I always want to score. I work hard for that. I work for my national team. First of all what I see is to try to contribute collectively.”

Panama opens the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Tuesday against Haiti at Toyota Stadium. That brings a smile to Perez’s face because it is where he plies his trade for FC Dallas in Major League Soccer.

With strikers always looking for a competitive edge, it gets no better than your own home stadium.

“It’s very special for me because I get to play at home,” Perez said. “I feel at home from having the fans at FC Dallas here, the Panamanians who are coming out to see us. It’s my third opportunity I get to play here in Texas and I hope that I can score goals Tuesday in my home as well as the other two games.”

Perez has been one of the most successful strikers in the region, scoring for every club team he’s played for since turning professional in 1998 with Panama Viejo. He has 36 goals in 88 appearances since joining FC Dallas in 2012 and is coming off his best season when he struck for 11 goals in 29 appearances, leading the team in scoring for a third consecutive year.

“I’m very happy being in Dallas. This organization opened the doors for me, allowed me to be recognized in U.S. soccer,” expressed Perez. “I’m always thankful to the FC Dallas fans, the organization, we have a good friendship with everyone and that motivates me to keep working hard. Hopefully, I can finish my career with FC Dallas for my well-being, but especially for my wife and my kids. Personally I am very comfortable here.”

But at the age of 34, how much is left for Perez? He’s heard this question before and chuckles.

“Each year doesn’t matter. I feel healthy. I’m going to be with my national team until I feel I can’t provide to my national team,” he said. “I can’t say this is my last Gold Cup. I want to finish my career playing for Panama when it takes its course. But personally what I say in four years I’ll probably retire and hopefully I can do it in a great way.”

The best way would be for Perez to lead Panama into the FIFA World Cup for the first time. Los Canaleros came agonizingly close to booking their ticket for Brazil 2014, but they conceded a pair of goals in stoppage time to the United States in their last match of the final qualifying round and were eliminated.

It was another heartbreaker for Perez and a core of players who have lost in a pair of Gold Cup finals, both to the Americans. In 2005, Panama fell on penalty kicks and, in 2013, dropped a 1-0 decision.

“We’ve played in two finals and lost both of them. Hopefully the third one can be the charm,” Perez remarked. “We’re really concentrated and focused on what we’ve done in the past and hopefully we’re not making the same mistakes that cost us in the past.”

Along with Perez, who is four goals behind current teammate Luis Tejada on Panama’s all-time scoring list, midfielder Gabriel Gomez, defender Roman Torres and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo have helped lift Panama up from regional minnow into perennial CONCACAF powerhouse.

“We’ve grown soccer-wise,” he continued. “Panama has earned an identity through the young players as well as the veteran players. We’ve been very key to the success year by year. We’ve always had something to say, but we’re very proud of what the national team has done. Hopefully we can continue to grow and continue to earn the respect Panama has earned. It’s not just for a moment.”

As such, Perez points to the younger players on Panama’s current roster such as midfielders Alfredo Stephens (20) and Miguel Camargo (20), as well forward Abdiel Arroyo (21).

Even if Perez becomes Panama’s all-time leading scorer, he is confident it will only be temporary.

“I think they’re going to reach me. There’s a lot of good players on the Panamanian national team,” said the former Leon loanee. “They come with good development. They’re always scoring goals. They are great players. As you can see, they’ve been asking for game time. For now, I’m just enjoying my games and the competition-side of things.”

So if this is not Perez’s final Gold Cup, how many does he have left in him?

“You see the young players waiting their turn,” Perez finished. “But as long as Panama calls me, I’m here for them.”