Soccer in Panama: A National Passion!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

The stage was set, Panama was five minutes away from qualifying for this year’s World Cup Soccer that was going to be celebrated in Brazil. The dream of all Panamanians has been to see our national team play the World Cup. Panama was up by two goals and we needed to win that game in order to qualify for the World Cup. Everybody started to feel like this was really happening. The whole country was mesmerized with the game. What a huge disappointment for us because in less than five minutes the US team tied the game and scored another goal in overtime thus shattering our hopes of going to the World Cup Soccer in Brazil this year. This dream was moments away from materializing but the US team took away this dream for 2014. Panama has never qualified for the World Cup and this could have been the biggest thing that our national team would have done. The World Cup is celebrated every four years and this year was the closest they had ever been to qualify for the World Cup. Even though we did not qualify, we came close and that means that each year the Panamanian team is becoming stronger and stronger. People in Panama are looking forward to the next qualifying round and they are hoping to see our national team in the next World Cup which will be celebrated in Russia in 2018.

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My favorite sport is soccer and that is the sport I have played since I was 6 years old. I would say soccer is my passion and I enjoy it every single second of my life and I look for constant updates related to soccer in the world news. In addition, I have been told by others since I was young that I had the talent of playing soccer especially as a goalkeeper. I have played soccer on different teams in Boquete and I also had the opportunity to play for a college in the US which was the best experience I could have ever had. Playing soccer at college level in another country was a great experience because I had the chance to play with fellow students from different countries and to train with professional coaches. The feeling of being part of a diverse team was thrilling, it felt like I was playing for a professional team. We would travel to different regions of the state and play in various soccer stadiums. During my first year of playing for my college, we won the regionals so we became the number one team at the college level in the whole state. Then we went on to the nationals where only the best college teams in the US would play against each other to see who could climb to the top. Even though we did not win the overall championship, all of this experience helped me to become more skilled at the game and to play even better. All of the hard work lead me to have an opportunity to try out for a professional team from the Major League Soccer (MLS) and that was just like a dream come true! I gave it my best, not letting fear get in my way. The level of competition was really high and I did my best to qualify to be on the team but didn’t quite make it. I moved on with my life. Who knows, there is always a possibility in the future I will have another chance like that. Eventually I returned to Boquete, Panama, to be re-united with my family and to pursue my college degree.

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Panama is one of the countries that has been developing faster in sports than most of the Central American countries. In Panama, people like sports in general but the most popular ones are soccer, baseball and boxing. As the years pass by, more and more people are getting involved in sports, especially young people. Students in Panama are required to play a sport while they are in high school, such as soccer, basketball, swimming, baseball and more. Over the past five years, soccer in Panama is the sport that make the fans come alive with passion during every game when the national team plays. Panama has its eyes set on the next World Cup.The Panama national soccer team represents Panama in international soccer. The team is controlled by the governing body for soccer in Panama called Panamanian (soccer) Football Federation, which is currently a member of The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the regional Union of Central American Football (UNCAF). Panama finished as runners-up in the 2005 Gold Cup and 2013 Gold Cup. Panama reached the fourth round for the 2006 World Cup CONCACAF qualifications and advanced to the fourth round for the 2014 World Cup CONCACAF qualifications.

There is a parallel that can be drawn between Panama’s desire to be “world class” in sports and hopefully qualify to  the World Cup as well my own desire to be the best I can be in whatever I pursue. My earlier experiences in living and going to school in the U.S. has given me the foundation to do my personal best in whatever I choose to do. My country of Panama and I are both dreamers and we are committed to doing our best. Let’s see where this journey takes us!

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