CHICAGO – Blas Pérez watched the US national team celebrate in front of him at Soldier Field and pondered his own future.
Was Sunday’s final his last chance at Gold Cup glory? Perhaps, but it certainly won’t be the last time he pulls on Panama’s colors.
"Maybe, this is my last Gold Cup," the FC Dallas striker told reporters shortly after the 1-0 loss to the US. "I'm already 32 years old and I have to give some room for the younger players. But we will continue to work on the qualifiers to reach the World Cup, because that's what's most important forus."
The path to Brazil isn’t without pitfalls, though. Panama sit fifth in the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings with four games remaining, but hope that this Gold Cup run can help them shake off the malaise that spoiled June’s World Cup qualifiers.
As the team’s top scorer in qualifying with 10 goals in 15 games, Pérez will be crucial to those hopes, and his coach, Julio Dely Valdés, hopes this isn’t the last of "Super Ratón" in the Gold Cup, either.
"Blas is a great professional,” Dely Valdés told FutbolMLS.com. “If he remains like that, he can play another Gold Cup. I played until I was 36 in what they used to call the 'best league in the world.’ So I think Blas, if he keeps on training as he does, he is a player that can give his everything. Even though he's older than 30, he looks like a 27-year-old."
Even though Panama's quest for a Gold Cup title fell short, Pérez says the future is bright for the Central American nation that’s known more for it’s baseball obsession than soccer prowess. For now, at least.
"This has been one of the most united groups I have ever played with along my career,” the 32-year-old said. “I am very proud of playing with them, because they are guys who listen, that are growing and like [Roberto] Chen, who will be a pillar to this team in the future."
And maybe some of those teammates will follow Pérez to MLS, too, providing even more opportunities for the national team to grow.
"I believe that I am doing a great job in MLS, and if my teammates and friends are offered the opportunity to play in MLS, they're very welcome,” he said. “They can leave Panama's name very high, just like I am doing at FC Dallas. I feel happy in my club and I hope I can keep opening doors to my teammates."