Humberto Ward (blue jersey) and his Arabe Unido team are enjoying a strong start to 2014. (Photo: Bob Levey)
COLON, Panama – A seventh-place finish was not Arabe Unido’s objective when it kicked off the 2013 Panamanian Apertura last July, but the first few weeks of 2014 Clausura have depicted a more agreeable story.
The Expreso Azul is currently firing on all cylinders right before the resumption of CONCACAF Champions League play next month. In the continental competition’s quarterfinals, Alajuelense of Costa Rica will provide the opposition.
Domestically, though both sides have more draws than wins, Arabe shares the top spot with Plaza Amador on 13 points through seven rounds. An impressive 4-2 triumph over then first-place Alianza on Saturday was its best performance of the season.
“This is to have confidence and believe in God,” head coach Jair Palacios was quoted as saying on the Liga Panameña de Fútbol website. “I have a lot of confidence, credibility and faith. That has been key.”
The club’s recent success is even further amplified when the departure of key players such as Alejandro Velez, Jose Gonzalez and Reynaldo Anderson is taken into account.
Gonzalez’s exit was particularly significant, since he scored the goal in Arabe’s 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on October 24, 2013, that clinched a place in the CCL knockout rounds.
Despite those personnel losses, the 10-time Panamanian champion has recovered its domestic form thanks to in part to the efforts of up-and-coming youngsters like Yoel Barcenas, Luis Fraiz, Abdiel Arroyo (all 20-year-old) and Abdiel Macea (22).
“It is working out with the youth system,” concluded Palacios. “Things are happening little by little.”
Arabe Unido will visit Alajuelense for the first leg of their quarterfinal series on March 10.