PANAMA CITY, Panama — While FC Dallas’ trip to Panama marks the team’s first time in Central America’s southernmost country, it is not the first visit for several team members.
Ahead of their Wednesday night matchup against Tauro FC at Estadio Rommel Fernández in CONCACAF Champions League play (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer), assistant coach John Ellinger reflected on his weeklong visit to Panama City in 2007 when he served as technical director of Real Salt Lake.
“I came here in January 2007 to watch the CONCACAF Under-20 qualifying group that the US was in,” Ellinger said after the team’s training session on Tuesday night. “In between I saw some games locally ... kind of tryouts looking at players for [Real] Salt Lake. My impressions of Panama then – it’s progressed – but along the same lines as it’s very athletic, strength, power [and] speed.”
Among the players on that particular US U-20 team were Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, Nathan Sturgis, former FCD midfielder Dax McCarty and FC Dallas’ current backup goalkeeper, Chris Seitz.
“All three rounds of the qualifying group were played here,” Seitz said from the site of Wednesday’s important Group C match. “It’ll be loud. As long as the rain stays away, I think everything will be fine.”
Four years later, Seitz also remembers his time spent during Under-20 qualifying where the US soundly defeated Panama 5-0 in the championship game.
“We actually played in the stadium for at least the championship game,” he recalled. “But it’s a nice city. Obviously you don’t get out and adventure too much but they’re passionate fans and it’s a good place to play. I hope it’s intense.”
FCD's No. 1 'keeper, Kevin Hartman – who has come up with vital saves in away games during their CCL travels to El Salvador, Mexico and Toronto – stopped in Panama as a result of poor weather in another Central American country.
Traveling with the US national team for a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica earlier in his career, Hartman and his teammates were forced to pull up from their landing in Costa Rica due to a lack of vision of the runway. Their contingency plan meant a one-night stay outside of Panama City.
“There must have been a big convention because all the hotels were booked,” Hartman said of his brief time in Panama. “So we ended up having to go outside the rain forests and stay in some resort about an hour-and-a-half outside of Panama City along the Canal.”
Stories aside, Ellinger knows Wednesday night means business for his MLS side.
“Soccer-wise, we have to find a way score a goal – a couple of goals – and hopefully put ourselves in a position for the next round,” he said.
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com.