Panama, who was a penalty shoot-out away from qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, will be without five of their top six five goal-scorers over the past two calendar years for the upcoming CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, where they are grouped with the United States Women’s National Team in Group A. Panama will also be without the head coach who guided them to the cusp of WWC qualification, Victor Suarez, who was sacked by Panama’s FA after last summer’s Pan-American Games, where Panama only managed to score a single goal in open play.
External Link: Fepafut’s official roster release (in Spanish)
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Most notable among the missing goal producers is winger Natalia Mills, who scored 6 goals since the start of 2018, including 2 against Jamaica and 1 against both Argentina and Costa Rica. Also absent is their top scorer, forward Karla Riley, who has 7 goals over the same period, including the game-winner against Mexico in the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship. Additionally, midfielder Kenia Rangel and forward Lineth Cedeno, who each scored 4 goals, including a hat-trick by Cedeno against El Salvador, are not on the roster. Absent as well is 20-yeard-old forward Erika Hernandez, who scored twice in 2018.
All five of these players are currently based overseas, including four in Spain’s second and third divisions: Mills and Riley (CD Pozoalbense) plus Hernandez (UD Tacuense) and Cedeno (Joventut Almassora). The fifth player, Rangel, who plays in Israel (Maccabi Holon F.C.), was not even named to Panama’s provisional list for this tournament.
For Mills and Cedeno, the public explanation for their absence is visa issues (TVN News, in Spanish). Not every Iberia-based player had visa challenges: Center back Yomira Pinzon, who is with the same Spanish club as Mills and Riley (CD Pozoalbense), is on the qualifying roster.
Explanations for the other players’ absences are harder to come by. Rangel is healthy and starting in league matches as recently as January 16th (Israeli FA profile). Mill’s club teammate Karla Riley also appears to be healthy (Twitter).
Two other notable absences are midfielder Laurie Batista, who is a club teammate of Erika Hernandez in Spain, and back-up goalkeeper Farissa Cordoba, who started both of Panama’s qualifying matches for this tournament, back in October 2019, when Yenith Bailey was curiously unavailable, apparently due to some sort of “permission issue” with her Paraguayan club team (Twitter). However, those matches were played during an official FIFA window. Cordoba, like her Israeli club teammate, Rangel, was also left off the provisional and is healthy, playing in the club’s most recent matches (Israeli FA profile). Both Batista and Hernandez attended a training camp in late November, when they were still based in Panama (fepafut.com roster).
Only one player on this current roster has scored multiple international goals over the past two years: Midfielder/forward Marta Cox, who netted 4 goals. Just two other players have scored a goal during that period: Outside back Maria Murillo and center back Yomira Pinzon.
In total, of the 29 goals Panama has produced during its 17 matches in the past two years, 23 or 79%, were scored by players not on this current roster.
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The Year of Three Coaches
Victor Suarez, who guided Panama to the inter-continental play-off with Argentina for the final slot of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, continued as Panama’s head coach through the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, where Panama failed to win a match, going 0-3-1, including a 1:5 drubbing by Mexico in the 5th/6th place match (lima2019.pe).
After Panama failed to win a match in last year’s 2019 Pan-American Games, Suarez was fired by Panama’s FA. A former WNT player (prensa.com) Raiza Gutierrez, was named as interim heading coach. Gutierrez previously served as Panama’s U-20 WNT coach and was named as their U-17 WNT head coach in July. As caretaker, she led Panama during its two Central American qualifying matches in early October 2019 for this tournament.
In late October 2019, Panama announced that Kenneth Zseremeta (es.Wikipedia biography), who previously helmed Panama’s WNT from 2002 to 2007. Zseremeta’s hiring was not without controversy, as he was concurrently under contract with the Dominican Republic Football Federation as their women’s teams head coach. Zseremeta’s first official day as head coach would not be until be mid-November 2019, following the conclusion of a regional U-20 WNT competition that the the Dominican Republic was participating in. (fepafut.com)
From 2008 to 2017, Zseremeta was head coach of the Venezuelan Women’s National Teams until he was sacked in late 2017, following politically controversial public statements after the Venezuela U-20 WNT had a poor showing at the Bolivarian Games (AP). Whether Zseremeta was fired primarily for performance reasons or his public statements is a murky subject.
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Putting Together the Pieces
What’s in a String of Numbers: Based on the Panama’s published line-up graphics*, their official formation shape has varied from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 or possibly a 4-3-3. What has not varied as much are the relative field positions of most players.
*Social media line-up graphics for Panama’s recent matches are embedded at the bottom of this article.
Goalkeeper: While Panama is missing significant offensive firing power, their defensive core is intact. Standout teen goalkeeper Yenith Bailey, who won the Golden Glove at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, is on the roster, and should start.
Defenders: Also on the roster are primary center backs Yomira Pinzon and 17-year-old Hilary Jaen, along with primary outside backs Maria Murillo and Katherine Castillo. Also making cut are back-up defender Rebeca Espinosa, who has six starts over the past two years, and Maryorie Perez, who has two starts. Curiously, Castillo is listed as a midfielder in Fepafut’s press release, which might indicate that Zseremeta wants to use Castillo mostly as a midfield winger, perhaps in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation.
Midfielders: Over the past two years, Panama’s most consistent starter is 18-year-old Aldrith Quintero. With her usual midfield partner, Laurie Batista, not on the list for this tournament, that leaves a big question mark in the center of Panama’s formation. One possible answer is 24-year-old Yerenis De Leon, who had been previously used as a center back. More-or-less guaranteed to start is captain Marta Cox, whether presented as an attacking midfielder (“10”) or second center forward.
Forwards: While Zseremeta may wish his Venezuelan prodigy Deyna Castellanos was available, he will have to make do with an eclectic mix of strikers, including 34-year-old player/coach Amarelis De Mera, who played for Zseremeta during his first stint as Panama’s head coach, and the 2002-born Gloria Saenz who is hoping for a special birthday present: Qualifying for the Olympics on her 18th birthday, February 7th, the day of the tournament’s all-or-nothing semifinals. Another option is 22-year-old Keisilyn Gutierrez, who scored a consolation goal against the U-20 USWNT in December 2015 (YouTube). Also available is the only USA-based player, Gabby Villagrand, of NCAA Division 2 program Angelo State University . Villagrand’s potential position is another curiosity, as she is listed as a midfielder on her university team profile as well as Panama’s provisional roster for this tournament.
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With an average age of just 23.04 (median is 22.99), Panama will be one of the younger squads that the USA will face. Six players were born in 2000 or later, with the youngest player, at 17.42 years-old, being likely starting center back Hilary Jaen. The oldest player is forward Amarelis De Mera, who turns 35 in late March.
PANAMA’S ROSTER FOR OLYMPIC QUALIFYING 2020
Parenthetical Key: Club; Age at Start of Tournament
Yenith Bailey (Club Libertad Limpeño, Paraguay; 18.85)
Nadia Ducreux (Costa Del Este; 28.01)
Sasha Fabrega (Tauro FC; 29.26)
Rebeca Espinosa (Universitario; 27.56)
Arlen Hernandez (Universitario; 24.16)
Hilary Jaen (Tauro FC; 17.42)
Maria Murillo (Atletico Nacional, Colombia; 23.12)
Maryorie Perez (Tauro FC; 22.17)
Yomira Pinzon (CD Pozoalbense, Spain; 23.43)
Ana Rodriguez (CAI; 17.77)
Katherine Castillo (Universitario; 23.85)
Marta Cox (Universitario; 22.52)
Yerenis De Leon (Universitario; 24.68)
Maria Guevara (Universitario; 19.32)
Aldrith Quintero (Tauro FC; 18.07)
Susy Cassinova (Plaza Amador; 23.98)
Amarelis De Mera (Tauro FC; 34.84)
Keisilyn Gutierrez (Universitario; 22.86)
Gloria Saenz (CAI; 17.97)
Gabriela Villagrand (Angelo State University, Texas, USA; 21.04)
APPENDIX 1: RECENT RESULTS
CONCACAF Olympic Pre-Qualifying
- 08-Oct-2019 – vs. Guatemala – 3:1 Win
- Goals: Riley, Cox, Mills
- 04-Oct-2019 – vs. Honduras – 3:0 Win
- Goals: Murillo, Cox, Riley
2019 Pan-American Games (Lima, Peru)
- 06-Aug-2019 – vs. Mexico – 1:5 Loss
- Goal: Riley (PK)
- 03-Aug-2019 – vs. Peru – 1:1 Draw
- Goal: Cox (PK)
- 31-Jul-2019 – vs. Argentina – 0:1 Loss
- 28-Jul-2019 – vs. Costa Rica – 1:3 Loss
- Goal: Mills
- Summary statistics for Panama are available on the Lima 2019 website (PDF)
- 19-May-2019 – @ Jamaica – 1:3 Loss
- Goal: Mills
Women’s World Cup Qualifying – Inter-Continental Play-Off
- 13-Nov-2018 – vs. Argentina – 1:1 Draw (Leg 2)
- Goal: Mills
- 08-Nov-2018 – vs. Argentina – 0:4 Loss (Leg 1)
Women’s World Cup Qualifying – CONCACAF Championship
- 17-Oct-2018 – vs. Jamaica – 2:2 Draw (3rd Place)
- Goals: Mills, Cedeno
- Jamaica lost the PSO 2:4 (4 rounds)
- 14-Oct-2018 – vs. Canada – 0:7 Loss (Semifinal)
- 10-Oct-2018 – vs. Mexico – 2:0 Win (Group)
- Goals: Riley, Cedeno
- 07-0ct-2018 – vs. United States – 0:5 Loss (Group)
- 04-Oct-2018 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago – 3:0 Win (Group)
- Goals: Cox, Rangel, Hernandez
Women’s World Cup Qualifying – CONCACAF Regional Qualifying
- 31-Aug-2018 – vs. Costa Rica – 1:3 Loss
- Goal: Hernandez
- 29-Aug-2018 – vs. El Salvador – 6:2 Win
- Goals: Mills, Riley, Rangel (x3), Cedeno
- 27-Aug-2018 – vs. Nicaragua – 4:0 Win
- Goals: Riley (x2), Pinzon, Cedeno
APPENDIX 2: LINE-UP GRAPHICS
(Formation graphics are not available for the two most recent matches, the Jamaica friendly, and the second play-off match against Argentina. Do not assume that the published formation positions are 100% accurate.)
08-Oct-2019 – vs. Guatemala – 3:1 Win (OlyQ)
04-Oct-2019 – vs. Honduras – 3:0 Win (OlyQ)
06-Aug-2019 – vs. Mexico – 1:5 Loss (PAG)
03-Aug-2019 – vs. Peru – 1:1 Draw (PAG)
31-Jul-2019 – vs. Argentina – 0:1 Loss (PAG)
28-Jul-2019 – vs. Costa Rica – 1:3 Loss (PAG)
19-May-2019 – @ Jamaica – 1:3 Loss (Friendly)
08-Nov-2018 – vs. Argentina – 0:4 Loss (WWCQ: Play-Off, Leg 1)
17-Oct-2018 – vs. Jamaica – 2:2 Draw (WWCQ, 3rd Place)
(Jamaica lost the PSO)
14-Oct-2018 – vs. Canada – 0:7 Loss (WWCQ, Semifinal)
10-Oct-2018 – vs. Mexico – 2:0 Win (WWCQ, Group)
07-0ct-2018 – vs. United States – 0:5 Loss (WWCQ, Group)
04-Oct-2018 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago – 3:0 Win (WWCQ, Group)
31-Aug-2018 – vs. Costa Rica – 1:3 Loss (WWCQ, Regional)
29-Aug-2018 – vs. El Salvador – 6:2 Win (WWCQ, Regional)
27-Aug-2018 – vs. Nicaragua – 4:0 Win (WWCQ, Regional)