Host Panama expects Copa Centroamericana test

Panama (pictured) trains at a recent session ahead of the for the 2017 Copa Centroamericana. (Photo courtesy of the Federación Panameña de Fútbol)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – While Panama will have the benefit of home support and a strong roster, it is expecting the 2017 Copa Centroamericana to be a difficult challenge.

The Canaleros have qualified for six straight CONCACAF Gold Cups, but it lifted the regional trophy only once, triumphing in the 2009 edition, which it also hosted.

“It is a tough tournament,” said Platense goalkeeper Jose Calderon. “There are countries that come in with stars and I think it is going to be hard. We have to take advantage of being at home. May all the fans come to support the national team.”

Panama has been riding a wave of strong recent performances. Since being eliminated from June’s Copa America Centenario, it has posted a 2W-1D-1L record in World Cup qualifiers, posting shutouts in three of those outings – including a pair in the opening two final round games.

“We have started off well in World Cup Qualifying,” Calderon remarked. “I think the fans are happy right now, so why not give them more joy and win this championship? I await them in the stadium at the start of the tournament and in all the matches may they support us with everything.”

If the Panamanians are to unseat two-time defending champion Costa Rica, enthusiastic backing by the fans could make the difference, starting with Friday’s opener against Belize at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

“It is a very serious tournament, with a lot of responsibility and in all parts you have to be serious,” said Toronto FC midfielder Armando Cooper, a veteran of two Copa Centroamericana campaigns (8 games/2 goals). “You have to come in doing your best and each one has to give their best, so that the tournament goes well.”

Panama is unbeaten in its last 14 Copa Centroamericana games (8-6-0).