Panama's Luis Tejada (pictured) has scored eight career goals in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on July 6, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. (Photo: Mexsport)FRISCO, Texas – The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup officially kicks off on Tuesday, when Panama faces Haiti in the opener of a Group A doubleheader at Toyota Stadium.
Here are Three Points to consider ahead of the game:1) Panama are a tournament dark horse
While regional powers Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States have cornered much of the pre-competition hype, Panama also begins Gold Cup play with the earnest expectation of winning the CONCACAF title. Los Caneleros were runners-up in both 2005 and 2013 and, under the guidance of head coach Hernan Dario Gomez, will have even grander ambitions at the 2015 edition. They should be flush with confidence following a third-place finish at the 2014 Central American Cup. In a clear statement of intent, Panama defeated World Cup quarterfinalists, Costa Rica (2-1) on March 31.2) Can Haiti’s stars shine bright?
If Haiti is going to emerge from Group A, its best players will need to fire on all cylinders. Most critical for Les Grenadiers on Tuesday will be the play of 27-year-old goalkeeper Johny Placide. The athletic shot-stopper, plays his club soccer in France for Stade Reims. While Placide directs the Haitian defense, 23-year-old forward Kervens Belfort will be counted on to score the goals. Belfort netted five times during the team’s Carribean Cup campaign and will again need to be at his dynamic best if Haiti is going to crack the Panamanian code.
3) Panama loaded with veteran firepower
Panama enters the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup championed by two of the top ten scorers in the competition’s history. Having found the back of the net a combined 18 times, Blas Perez (10) and Luis Tejada (8) represent one of the tournament’s most fierce strike partnerships. Tejada – the 2005 Gold Cup MVP – is the leading scorer in the national team’s history, while Perez – a member of the 2007 Gold Cup “Best XI” – has scored at least one goal in four straight Gold Cups and remains a central leadership figure. If both can find their top form in 2015, sky’s the limit for Panama.