LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo dreams every day about representing Panama at the World Cup. Panama has never been to soccer’s quadrennial party, they’ve only seen it on TV. Yet, every day— “every day,” he emphasizes— he dreams about it.
“It’s one of my biggest motivators to work hard every day,” Penedo said on FutbolMLS.com’s Tiro Libre podcast last week.
More than 3.4 million people live in Panama, a tiny Central American country that is slightly larger than West Virginia (the 10th smallest state in the United States). In comparison, more than 9.8 million people live in Los Angeles County. Similar to Los Angeles, there are pockets in Panama that are baseball crazy but at the moment everyone has soccer fever as Los Canaleros enter the final stretch of the World Cup Qualifiers.
With only four games left in the Hexagonal, Panama is within two points of one of the three automatic berths given to CONCACAF, and one point from fourth place, which comes with a spot in a playoff game against Oceania champions New Zealand with a berth in next year’s World Cup at stake. This is the closest Panama has ever been to a World Cup at this stage of the process.
Penedo, 31, acknowledges that it won’t be easy to qualify to Brazil, “but the road is laid out for us,” he said during the podcast. “The points (needed to qualify for the World Cup) are there. We need to play the games.”
If Panama is to qualify for the World Cup, it will probably need a little help from the U.S. National Team. Penedo said he’s already talked about this with current Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez.
“I already told them, I already told both of them, that they need to win all of their remaining games,” Penedo said with a laugh. “If they (the U.S.) want to go into the World Cup with 30 points, I’m all for it.”
The maximum number of points the U.S. could reach with their remaining games is 25, but Penedo’s enthusiasm is easy to understand. The more games the U.S. wins down the stretch, the better Panama’s chances of advancing to the World Cup are.
That’s not to say that Penedo and Panama are not focused on their next opponents. The former Municipal man was one of 23 players called up by Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdes for their upcoming qualifiers at home against Jamaica on Sept. 6, and away to Honduras in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 10.
“Given the position we are in, we need to take it game-by-game and the more important of the two games is against Jamaica,” he said. “It’s the first one and it’s at home. If we win that game, we go into the game against Honduras in a very good position.”
When asked if he thinks Panama is going to the World Cup, Penedo did not hesitate to say yes. He even added that they would qualify without having to play in the playoff game.
“Tell me I’m over confident, tell me it’s ‘too complicated,’” he said, adding that he knows it’s complicated, “but I’m dreaming about it. I dream about it every day.”