Colorado Rapids forward Gabriel Torres will be playing the two biggest games of his young career in the span of four days starting Friday.
The 24-year-old and his Panamanian teammates are within reach of a berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it comes down to games against Mexico on October 11 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City before hosting the United States on October 15 in Panama City.
"For all of us, these two final games are very important," Torres told ColoradoRapids.com before joining his national team earlier this week. "We're approaching these games with a lot of responsibility - we know we're playing for a berth in the World Cup, so we're going with an attitude of obtaining points in Mexico and then closing out at home against the United States."
The top three teams from CONCACAF qualify automatically for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the fourth place team playing a home-and-home series with New Zealand for an additional spot in the tournament. The United States and Costa Rica have already secured their place in Brazil. Honduras enters the final two games in third place with 11 points, followed by Panama and Mexico in fourth with eight points apiece.
Panama is unbeaten in three meeting with Mexico this year. The teams played to a scoreless tie in June in Panama in a World Cup Qualifier. In July, Torres led Panama to 2-1 win over Mexico by scoring both goals in the opening match of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Torres then set up the winning goal as Panama again beat Mexico, 2-1, in the tournament's semifinal match.
"Mexico has not been able to beat us this year, but this will be a different game," Torres said of facing the regional heavyweights again. "They have very good players and they can awaken at any moment - we hope it won't happen in the game against Panama so we can take all three points."
One advantage that Torres may have is that he's been playing in Colorado's 'mile high' altitude ahead of the match at the famed Estadio Azteca, where the thin air has cause many teams problems. However Mexico has also struggled at the Azteca during the Hexagonal, playing three scoreless ties to the U.S., Jamaica, and Costa Rica before losing, 2-1, to Honduras last month.
"Honestly I think this will help me a lot," Torres said. "I'm a lot more acclimated to the altitude here in Colorado, and it surely will make it easier playing in Mexico's (altitude)."
Panama can taste the World Cup, but they are not taking anything for granted.
"We have to play the games first," Torres concluded. "But we don't have anything else in mind other than the World Cup."
Friday's match between Panama and Mexico will be broadcast at 6:30 p.m. MT on Unimas and UnivisionDeporters.com. Panama's match against the United States on Oct. 15 will be shown in beIN Sport at 7 p.m. MT.