FRISCO, Texas – It’s a good time to be a Panamanian footballer, and MLS has noticed.
Following Panama’s run to the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, two stars from that team have made their way to the league: goalkeeper Jaime Penedo has landed with the LA Galaxy, while strike sensation Gabriel Torres is now a Colorado Rapid.
Panamanian success stories in MLS have been hard to come by recently, however, as Marcos Sánchez didn’t last long with D.C. United and Carlos Rodríguez was unable to stick with FC Dallas.
But Blas Pérez (above) has clearly changed a potentially negative perception during his very productive stint – 17 goals and four assists in 36 career games – with FCD. He believes he’s done his part for his countrymen.
“I feel that in a way, I managed to get that door open by being in the league and by having [my teammates] looking at this league,” Pérez said through an interpreter after FC Dallas’ draw with the LA Galaxy on Sunday night. “Then the Gold Cup and the performance that we had is another way of opening doors for the Panamanian team. I’m very happy for them and happy to see more Panamanians in the league.”
Penedo was on the bench for the Galaxy on Sunday, but looks set to see minutes quickly given LA’s upcoming participation in the CONCACAF Champions League and starter Carlo Cudicini’s shakiness in nets.
Torres’ status as Colorado’s first-ever Designated Player assures his rapid insertion into the starting lineup there, making MLS as important to Panama as it is to any national team’s success short of the USMNT.
That will put more eyes squarely on this star trio as Panama look to one-up their Gold Cup final finish with their first-ever World Cup berth in Brazil next summer. Los Canaleros have work to do in qualifying, currently a point off the fourth-place spot in the CONCACAF Hexagonal table.
“It’s a very important year for football in Panama, a year that we know we have the opportunity to do something important,” Pérez said. “The next two months, September and October, are going to be key for the dream of qualifying for the World Cup. It’s very important and we’re very excited about it.”