Panama forward Carlos Small (red jersey) is a player to watch in the 2015 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship. (Photo: Mexsport)
KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Head coach Leonardo Pipino has been pleased with his team’s preparation for the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, but the proof comes beginning Thursday when Panama opens the competition against Cuba at Sporting Park.
“We are pretty solid, but tomorrow will show and display how we’re really prepared,” the Argentinean said at a press conference Wednesday.
Pipino has had success on the youth stage before, guiding Panama to a second-place finish in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and a place in the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. More than half of the Canalero roster for this tournament is comprised of players born in 1995 or later.
“We hope to do well,” Pipino continued. “We know that we’re not the candidates to win the tournament. I know the United States and Mexico are the preferred candidates to win it all. On top of that there is Costa Rica and Honduras, who we have to face. We’ll do everything to hide our issues, to play strong, fast-paced soccer.”
Based on what on what he saw of it at the CONCACAF U-20 tournament in January, the 38-year-old believes that Cuba will provide a stiff challenge.
“It will be a difficult opponent,” Pipino said. “No matter the difficulty, we haven’t been outscoring them by a lot of goals. I don’t expect it to be easy.”
In terms of his own squad, Pipino has high expectations for forward Carlos Small who “opens up the field and allows players to convert.”
Another player Pipino will be depending on is 21-year-old midfielder Pedro Jeanine who is already accustomed to high-pressure regional play, competing for San Francisco in the 2015 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
“It’s not going to be an easy tournament, it’s going to be difficult for Panama, especially because of the stage of our football is in right now,” Jeanine said. “It’s a big compromise for myself and my teammates, but we want to succeed in order to guide the future of football in Panama. We have to be mentally and physically prepared for what’s going to come.”
Panama will also meet Canada (October 3), also at Sporting Park, before closing out Group A play against the United States (October 6) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.