MIAMI, Florida – DF Roberto Chen of San Francisco FC is no stranger to Concacaf tournaments. The Panamanian is set to play in his third Scotiabank Concacaf League when San Francisco take on either Alajuelense of Costa Rica or Cibao FC of the Dominican Republic in the Round of 16.
Having appeared previously in 10 SCL matches with Arabe Unido across the 2017 and 2018 editions, in addition to matches in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League with both Arabe Unido (2016/17) and San Francisco (2011/12), Chen leaped at the chance at getting another crack at the SCL this year in his third stint with San Francisco.
“It’s a motivating factor to join a team knowing that it will play in international competition, but San Francisco is also the club that developed me. I’m a product of the youth system, so when the opportunity presented itself, I did not hesitate at any moment. It’s a team that I know well, people that I know well, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to have a great season both domestically and internationally,” said Chen in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
“I had the opportunity to be in two editions of the SCL and the SCCL, in the SCL with Arabe Unido and it went well for us in both. We made the semifinals and just lacked that last bit to reach the final and so hopefully with San Francisco we can reach that anticipated final and lift the trophy. We know it’s a difficult competition. It’s very demanding, but it’s really great,” said Chen.
With 14 matches total in Concacaf tournaments under his belt, it is safe to say that the bright lights of Concacaf competition bring out the best in Chen.
“Concacaf matches are really special because you no longer represent a specific region or a district, you represent the entire country. You are playing for all of Panama and the people pay attention, they watch you both nationally and internationally. It’s a really great showcase. Personally, I’ve had the chance to play Concacaf tournaments with clubs and the national team and it’s more demanding, there’s more quality, you have to prepare yourself to the fullest and be ready to give your all when it’s time to play,” said Chen.
In the 2020 SCL, San Francisco will square off against the Alajuelense-Cibao winner on November 3 in Panama, giving Chen and his teammates some needed additional time to prepare.
“Our preparation up until now has been very good. This is our second week of training. Obviously, after such a long lay-off, it’s logical that we’re not physically 100 percent, but the coach has emphasized that we do good physical work. The whole week has been intense and now finally we are working with the ball. The truth is that there is not a lot of time to train. The tournament is starting soon, so all you can do is work to the fullest, do things well and be ready to go when the tournament starts,” said Chen.
While Chen would welcome facing either Alajuelense or Cibao in the Round of 16, a date with the Costa Rican club would have an extra special feeling to it since Chen played a season with Alajuelense.
“You have to respect both teams. If they are in this tournament it’s because they are good teams. I can speak a little more about Alajuelense since I was there for six months in 2018, there are a lot of players there that I know, so it would be really nice to face Alajuelense. We know that it is a strong team, it’s one of the biggest in Costa Rica, they are in playing form, but first we have to be focused on our work, prepare ourselves well and arrive into the tournament in the best way possible,” said Chen.
With a top-six finish in the SCL, San Francisco would punch their ticket to the SCCL for the sixth time and their first since the 2015-16 edition. The opportunity to play in such an event is not one that Chen wants to pass up.
“That is our main objective. I think everyone prepares to be a champion, more so for a team like San Francisco, which is a big club in Panama, but we have to be aware that the main objective is to qualify for the Champions League. We have to go step by step. We can’t get overconfident and we have to prepare to the fullest. If we are able to achieve those objectives, that would be very important. Competing internationally would benefit the players and the country in general because when the local teams here go against teams from Mexico and the U.S., it is a much bigger showcase,” said Chen.
Chen made his big Concacaf breakout at the young age of 19 at the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup when he helped Panama earn a place in the Final. Now 26 years old and a wealth of experience under his belt, Chen has openly assumed the role of team leader at San Francisco.
“I think that experience is to be shared. I’ve been fortunate that at the club and international level, I’ve already had a long career, I’ve achieved big things thankfully with the help of different teammates and coaching staffs, so now I try to be a good example for teammates and also an example off the field. It is a responsibility that I have and that I assume. If I need to contribute that bit of leadership and maturity, I will try to do it in the best way possible by being a good example for everyone,” concluded Chen.