MÁLAGA, SPAIN – After standout performances in Panama’s run to the final of the recently completed CONCACAF Gold Cup, defender Roberto Chen has made the leap to Europe. The 19-year-old left San Francisco FC to join Malaga in Spain on a four-year contract after the two sides agreed to a $500,000 transfer last week.
He becomes the second Panamanian to play for Malaga, following in the footsteps of current national team head coach Julio César Dely Valdes, who scored 38 goals in 104 games for the Malaguistas.
“I am happy to have this opportunity, I am going to give it my all, it’s not just about getting there [to Malaga], but to make a name for myself and for Panama,” said Chen. “Everything started up after the Gold Cup where they had been observing me, before there weren’t any offers [for me] except Seattle’s, until this opportunity came up.”
Despite his young age – as well as last month’s God Cup -- Chen has appeared in numerous CONCACAF competitions. He first burst on to the regional scene with a series eye-opening outings in the 2011 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, leading Panama to a third-place finish and a berth at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Only a few months later, a 16-year-old Chen played in each of Panama’s five games at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. He appeared again in the competition two years later, scoring one goal in three matches.
Additionally, he was on the field for every minute of San Francisco’s 2011-12 Champions League preliminary round games against the Seattle Sounders -- a 1-0 win at home and a 2-0 extra-time loss on the road.
The new Malaga man debuted for the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League quarterfinalist in a 3-2 friendly loss at England’s Aston Villa on Saturday. He played the final 76 minutes, entering the game as a substitute for the injured Weligton. Though having made his first appearance earlier than expected, the moment was not too big for Chen who felt satisfied with his play.
“I’m happy with my debut; in general the team’s work-rate has been good and mine as well. There is still a lot left to improve but I’ve given the team the confidence that they can count on me,” said Chen following the game.
Malaga opens its league season on Saturday against host Valencia.