Ervin Zorrilla (red jersey) is on Panama's roster for the 2014 Central American under-20 qualifying tournament, which starts on July 17, 2014, in El Salvador. (Photo: Mexsport)
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- A road full of challenges awaits the Panama under-20 national team as it pursues a place at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
The first step in that process is to navigate successfully through the Central American qualifying tournament, which starts on Thursday in El Salvador. It is there that the region’s berths will be decided for the next CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, a competition that will ultimately determine the Confederation’s representatives for the FIFA event.
After nearly five months of preparation, the Panamanians put together a roster mostly of players already entrenched in their professional clubs and who are capable of employing that experience internationally.
Head coach Leonardo Pipino’s squad is underscored by speed and skill. As a result, he is expected to implement a wide-ranging offensive structure.
"I think we have a seasoned team," Pipino said. “They are guys who have good attitude, are relatively fast and can expand their game a bit more than usual in youth football in our country.”
Due to the facts that the team will play a schedule of six games in 11 days and roster size was limited to 18 players, Pipino realized that he needed competitors capable of performing in multiple positions.
"As UNCAF (Central American Football Union) only allows 18 players for six games, you need to have 18 guys who can play two or more positions,” he explained. “Otherwise, you will not have enough for a suspension or an injury that may result.”
The coaching staff has carefully studied Honduras – Panama’s first opponent -- a side that combines veterans of the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup with valuable Honduran league contributors.
"We have examined them particularly because Honduras is the first opponent," Pipino noted. “The rest of the rivals are there (in El Salvador) and you will see them and they can also observe you.”
Though the main objective is to secure a World Cup ticket, it is clear that Panama is also taking a wider view by linking the process to overall football development in the country.
Panama’s six-game schedule is as follows:
- July 17 v Honduras (San Salvador)
- July 19 v Nicaragua (Santa Tecla)
- July 21 v Costa Rica (San Salvador)
- July 23 v Belize (Santa Tecla)
- July 25 v Guatemala (San Salvador)
- July 27 v El Salvador (Santa Tecla)
PANAMA UNDER-20 NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER
(Central American Qualifying: July 17-July 29, 2014)
GOALKEEPERS: Jaime De Gracia (Tauro FC), Martin Melendez (San Francisco FC)
DEFENDERS: Jesus Araya (Tauro FC), Jomar Diaz (Rio Abajo FC), Fidel Escobar (Sporting San Miguelito), Kevin Galvan (Sporting San Miguelito), Chin Hormechea (Arabe Unido)
MIDFIELDERS: Jesus Gonzalez (Sporting San Miguelito), Francisco Narbon (Shattuck St. Mary/USA), Luis Pereira Lewis (Arabe Unido), Jhamal Rodriguez (Chorrillo FC), Fabian Salcedo (Sporting San Miguelito), Edson Samms (Queretaro/Mexico), Julian Velarde (Chorrillo FC), Ervin Zorrilla (Tauro FC)
FORWARDS: Ruben Barrow (Tauro FC), Ismael Diaz (Tauro FC), Carlos Small (Sporting San Miguelito)
- Seven players see regular first-team action with their first-division clubs, including Charles Small, who finished top scorer of the 2014 Panamanian Clausura with 10 goals.
- Panama is searching for its fifth FIFA U-20 World Cup berth and first since Colombia 2011.