Five Things to Know: Panama
When the U.S. Men’s National Team takes the field at Orlando City Stadium on Friday, Oct. 6, it will do so against a very familiar foe. Learn more about Los Canaleros ahead of USA-Panama, presented by Volpi Foods (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, Univision & UDN).
Panama: The Country and Flag
The southern-most nation in Central America, Panama is bordered to the west by Costa Rica, to the southeast by Colombia. The country’s northern border is lined by the Caribbean Sea while the southern coast touches the Pacific Ocean.
Originally part of the Republic of Colombia, Panama declared its independence in 1903 when the U.S. helped back a separatist movement in the country, which paved the way for the world-famous Panama Canal.
Panama’s flag was developed by María de la Ossa de Amador, then First Lady of Panama, on Nov. 1, 1903, with the design meant to reflect the political situation that existed in the country at that time. The two colored boxes are representative of the two main political parties – blue for the Conservative Party and red for the Liberal Party. The white in the flag symbolizes peace and purity, the blue star stands for the purity and honesty of the life in Panama; the red star represents the authority and law in the country and together the stars stand for the new republic.
Few CONCACAF nations have experienced the type of rise that Panama has during the last 12 years. Dubbed Los Canaleros as the host nation of the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama went on a Cinderella run to the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final where they fell 3-1 on penalty kicks to a Bruce Arena-led U.S. side.
Also part of CONCACAF’s Final Round World Cup Qualifying for the first time that year, Panama has advanced to the Hex three of the last four qualifying campaigns and came painstakingly close to finishing fourth in 2013 (more on that down the page).
That same year, Panama once again arrived in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, where Brek Shea’s game-winner delivered the U.S. a 1-0 victory at Soldier Field.
Always posing a threat no matter the opponent, Panama’s recent growth is undeniable, moving from being ranked No. 100 in 2004 to No. 60 in September’s FIFA World Rankings.
The Here and Now
Under the management of former Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala head coach Hernán Darío Gómez since 2014, Panama has continued to make progress. But for some questionable calls against Mexico in the semifinal of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Los Canaleros would have arrived in their second-straight confederation championship match. Instead they faced the United States in the Third Place Match, which they eventually won on penalty kicks.
Since then, Panama qualified for the Hex with ease, finishing second to Costa Rica in Semifinal Round Group B. They’ve stayed true to form in the Final Round, using physical and gritty play to hang tough and come into Matchday 9 sitting in third place, one point above both the USA and Honduras.
Some of Panama’s highlights include opening the Final Round with a 1-0 win at Honduras last November, an important 0-0 draw at Costa Rica in June and 3-0 thrashing of Trinidad & Tobago last month. They’ve also had their slip-ups, though. Los Canaleros would be in even better shape if not for a 1-0 away defeat at T&T in March and two home draws against its direct competitors – the 1-1 result against the USA in March and the 2-2 deadlock with Honduras in June.
History with the U.S. MNTThe U.S. holds a dominant 11-1-6 all-time advantage against Panama, though Los Canaleros have found some recent success against the MNT. In fact, the two sides have played to 1-1 draws in each of their past four meetings – three times in Gold Cup play and once in World Cup Qualifying.
Aside from playing two Gold Cup Finals against each other in 2005 and 2013, the most consequential game prior to Friday’s contest came when the MNT dashed Panama’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup on the final day of the Hex.
Tied 1-1 at halftime and needing a victory to advance to the Intercontinental Playoff, the Panamanians thought they got the decisive goal when Luis Tejada gave the home side a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. Unwilling to surrender to a defeat despite not needing a result, the U.S. responded with two goals in stoppage time, one from Graham Zusi in the second minute of added time and then a bullet from Aron Johannsson a minute later. The loss destroyed Panama’s hopes, and instead helped regional rivals Mexico squeak into fourth place.
Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez named his 22-player roster for the team’s upcoming qualifiers back on Sept. 20. Unsurprisingly, the manager is largely relying on the same group he has throughout the Final Round, with 20 of the players on this roster most recently taking part in Los Canaleros’ September matches.
One notable returnee is veteran goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Capped 125 times by Panama, the former LA Galaxy net minder missed out on September’s matches with a groin injury.
Check out the full list of 22 players that have been called up by Panama:
GOALKEEPERS (2): José Calderón (Marathón/HON), Jaime Penedo (Dynamo Bucharest/ROM)
DEFENDERS (8): Felipe Baloy (Municipal/GUA), Érick Davis (Dunajská Streda/SVK), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls/USA), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo/USA), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls/USA), Luis Ovalle (Deportes Tolima/COL), Román Torres (Seattle Sounders FC), Jan Carlos Vargas (Tauro)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Édgar Bárcenas (Tapachula/MEX), Ricardo Buitrago (Juan Aurich/PER), Armando Cooper (Toronto FC/CAN), Aníbal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes/USA), Gabriel Gòmez (Atlético Bucaramanga/COL), José González (Árabe Unido), Alberto Quintero (Universitario/PER)
FORWARDS (5): Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio/URU), Roberto Nurse (Zacatecas), Blas Pérez (Municipal/GUA), Luis Tejada (Universitario/PER), Gabriel Torres (Lausanna-Sport/SUI)