ARLINGTON, Texas – The Panamanian national team brought in a national icon this week ahead of the Gold Cup semifinals, and he’s more than familiar with winning big games.
New York Yankees relief pitcher and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera gave his countrymen a motivational speech on Tuesday as they prepared for their matchup against regional heavyweight Mexico on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer/UniMas).
Rivera and the Yankees were in town this week for a series against the Texas Rangers, and the 43-year-old Panama City native and five-time World Series champion offered up words of hope for Los Canaleros as they face their toughest opponent of the tournament thus far.
“It was a very motivational conversation,” FC Dallas and Panama striker Blas Pérez told reporters through an interpreter. “He’s a person who is a great believer in God, he gave us a lot of inspiring quotes that will stay with us and we have to [look to him] as a great example.”
Panama are in their second consecutive Gold Cup semifinal and have only reached the final once, losing to the United States in 2005.
Pérez said that Los Canaleros are focused on getting to the final in Chicago, but that they are also keenly aware that the experience they are gaining during the Gold Cup will be very beneficial next fall when they try and secure Panama’s first-ever World Cup berth.
If Panama do beat Mexico a second time and then go on to secure a spot in Brazil, Rivera’s speech may end up becoming the Panamanian version of Knute Rockne’s famed “Win One for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame football.
“Mariano’s a great figure in Panama and the US and we’re hoping to do the great things he’s done,” Pérez said.