HOUSTON — When Panama take on the US on Wednesday night at Reliant Stadium (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer), they’ll have to do so without perhaps their most dangerous player, Blas Pérez.
The striker had stood out as a dynamic figure menacing opposing back lines, but a 90th-minute red card against El Salvador in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup cost the forward a spot in the big rematch against the Americans.
Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdés knows that not having Pérez available to partner up with Luis Tejada on Wednesday is a big blow to the Red Tide’s hopes of beating the US to reach the final.
“It’s a big absence because he’s a player that plays well, works hard and fulfills his duties almost to perfection,” Dely Valdés said on Tuesday.
With Pérez out, all signs seem to indicate that young attacker Luis Rentería will get the nod.
“I still don’t know [if I’ll start],” said the 22-year-old, who has yet to score in three appearances. “The boss is the one who decides come game-time. But I do hope I’m in the starting XI.”
Rentería’s blazing speed will be a big asset for Panama and should create plenty of problems for the American back line. He knows speed isn’t the US defenders’ forte, so he’ll try to exploit that.
“I’m very ready,” Rentería said. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity for a while and now, if I’m in the starting XI, I’m going to represent my country well. It’ll be tough [to play the US]. They’re a rival to beat in the cup, but we beat them once already and we’re prepared to do it again.”