FRISCO, Texas –The raucous crowd of 81,410 at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday evening for the Mexico-Panama Gold Cup semifinal went completely silent when Blas Pérez’s 13th-minute blast beat Jonathan Orozco for the opening goal.
Well, most of the crowd, that is.
“Oh God, I was ... my wife and I both were cheering like we were on the field and part of the team with him,” FC Dallas teammate Kenny Cooper told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Thursday. “[He scored the] goal literally right in front of where we were sitting and we were part of the celebrations.”
Cooper and a number of FC Dallas players attended the semifinal doubleheader to cheer on the US men's national team in the first match and their teammate in the second one. They sat in the stands as fans and enjoyed the experience of being a part of the crowd for a change.
“It was really cool watching your home country representing, the fans came out well, the team played great. It’s exciting to see for sure,” midfielder Andrew Jacobson said.
In addition to his teammates, Pérez also had another well-known Panamanian in the stadium cheering him on. After his New York Yankees teammates finished of a 2-0 victory over the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, pitcher Mariano Rivera crossed the parking lot to watch his beloved Canaleros.
Rivera said he was on “pins and needles” for the entire second half, but the celebratory dance and yell he did in the upper reaches of Cowboys Stadium after the final whistle gave testament to what an important victory for Panama this match was.
“That was spectacular,” Rivera told reporters after the game. “I'm grateful to the Lord to allow us to play the game the way we played and allowed us to come out on top. That was great. I am humble to see my team play the way they did and win.
"You beat a Mexico team, it's huge.”
While there is no doubt which team Rivera will be pulling for during Sunday’s Gold Cup final in Chicago, there are bound to be some mixed feelings on the proceedings emanating from the American contingent in FC Dallas’ ranks. Cooper, ever the diplomat, said he wanted the US to win, but that he hoped Pérez played well and said that a 2-1 win by the Yanks with Pérez scoring the lone Panama goal “sounded good.”
Jacobson was more blunt in his response when asked who he’d be pulling for.
“USA. I’m American, that’s who I’ll always root for," a laughing Jacobson said. "I hope Blas has a good game and I hope he almost scores, but I hope we win,”