By Joseph D'HIppolito
CARSON, California -- When referee Enrico Wijngaarden whistled the end of the first round of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying Tuesday night, Panama's Yairo Glaize Yao knelt at the midfield stripe and buried his head in his hands.
For the second consecutive game, an injury time goal deprived Panama of points. Tuesday was particularly distressing since "Los Canaleros" had played tournament favorite Mexico fairly evenly and still lost 1-0.
Despite going home with a draw, two losses and outscored 5-2, manager Julio Dely Valdes immediately characterized the experience as valuable.
"It helps us a lot," said Dely Valdes, who also is the manager of Panama's senior national team -- which will begin the third round of World Cup qualifying June 8 with a home match against Honduras, followed by a game at Cuba four days later.
"Many of these players can play with the senior team and play just as well as they did tonight. Without a doubt, a lot of them will be in qualifying."
Twelve members of Panama's under-23 team already have played at least one game with the senior squad. Five participated in the second round of World Cup qualifying last fall against Nicaragua and Dominica.
Midfielder Anibal Godoy started one of those qualifiers and appeared as a substitute twice. Defender Roderick Miller made two starts. Midfielder Erick Davis and defender Rolando Algandona each started once. Forward Amir Waithe scored twice in a 5-0 rout of Dominica on October 7.
Algandona, Miller and Godoy made the starting lineup in all three of the Olympic qualifiers.
"This is a great tournament," Dely Valdes said. "It requires a lot from you. The players gave me very good things to look at, to think about."
Miller believed the Olympic qualifying tournament surpassed the second round of World Cup qualifying.
"It's really a higher level, more professional, better quality," Miller said. "It's very challenging. It's a beautiful experience."