61113_pajoy_isi_intlmj070812057 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Looking at Panama

Parsing Panama: What the U.S. Can Expect in Seattle

A word to the wise from Edgar Castillo: One of Panama's center backs "is going to talk stuff to you, bad stuff to you, all game, but we’ll be good." Jon Arnold with a preview of the visitors.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
June 11, 2013
4:30 PM
The United States has yet to play Panama this qualifying cycle, but like most CONCACAF clubs, the Americans are familiar with Tuesday’s opposition.

“By now, there’s a bunch of us who have a good idea of what Panama are all about,” midfielder Michael Bradley said Monday. “We’ve played them a few times in Gold Cup in recent years. Good team, team that’s been together for a lot of years now. Athletic, strong. It’ll be a hard game.”

Panama’s veteran center backs, Felipe Baloy and Roman Torres, are responsible for most of the difficulty the Americans will face. The visiting side consists of many players the Americans have seen several times, including during the 2011 Gold Cup. In that tournament, the Stars and Stripes struggled to score against the Panamanians and dropped a 2-1 result in the group stage before exacting revenge in the semifinal. Even that match presented attacking problems with Freddy Adu making a substitute appearance and unlocking the resolute Central Americans on a move that ended with Landon Donovan assisting a Clint Dempsey goal. They could face the same struggle Tuesday as they did in 2011. While Baloy told ASN and other reporters Tuesday that the team will go for all three points, Panama won’t take many risks on the attacking end. They’re coming off a 0-0 draw against Mexico, a home match in which manager Julio Dely Valdes never quite put his foot on the team’s gas pedal.

Edgar Castillo, the Tijuana left back who could play in midfield for Jurgen Klinsmann, has played against Baloy’s Santos in league play and Torre’s Millonairos in Copa Libertadores. A jovial Castillo wasn’t at all worried when asked about the center backs.

“[Baloy]’s a big guy. He’s a good defender, but all he does is just hit and hit all game,” he said. “He’s going to talk stuff to you, bad stuff to you, all game, but we’ll be good. We’ve got to come out tomorrow, and we’ve got to win. We played against [Torres] in the Copa Libertadores, he’s a strong guy too. That’s all he does is talk, the same thing. But we’re going to win.”

But even Castillo’s relaxed demeanor looked rigid compared to Panama’s mood Monday night. With practice completed Monday morning, the side did a quick evening walkthrough on the Century Link surface, and then played keepy-uppy. The player deemed responsible for letting the ball hit the ground was subjected to ear-flicks and swift kicks. “Are they always…” I asked one journalist from Pamana before he finished my sentence “in good spirits? Always,” he said.

Dely Valdes was similarly laid back, though he still wan’t in the mood for any nonsense, laughing off several questions posed by the press. On the expected crowd, the manager smiled and said, “Fortunately, the fans don’t play the game.”

One thing that has tempered the mood is the absence of Blas Perez. The star FC Dallas striker was stricken with gastroenteritis and threw up during the draw against Mexico. He could return for Panama’s next match but won’t play in Seattle.

“We have other strikers. It’s not just Blas,” Dely Valdes said Monday. Rolando Blackburn, a 23-year-old forward who plays for a club in Serbia, said he was hoping to fill the gap left by Perez.

Relaxed off the field but disciplined on it, Panama may pose a challenge, but U.S. captain Clint Dempsey remains confident the Americans will be able to break the team down and leave Seattle with a win.

“I would say that teams have had success against them in crosses, whether it’s set plays or getting the ball wide and getting crosses into the box, people have managed to get on the end of things and get goals that way,” he said, “It’s about keeping possession good and picking and choosing your moments when to take risks in the attacking third. They’re a team that’s very difficulty to break down, but if we play the ball very quickly, one-two touch and have good movement off the ball, I think that we’ll be fine.”

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.

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