Panama Copa America 2024 squad guide: With substance and style ...

15 Jun 2024

They might be one of the weaker sides at this summer’s tournament, but positive steps under their progressive coach suggest Panama could spring something of a surprise.

Copa America - Figure 1
Photo The Athletic

How to follow Euro 2024 and Copa America on The Athletic…

Euro 2024 news | Euro 2024 fixtures Copa America news | Copa America fixtures The manager

Thomas Christiansen was born in Denmark but moved to Spain as a teenager — the country where his mother was born. He joined Barcelona aged 18 in 1991, when Johan Cruyff was midway through his ‘Dream Team’ period as manager — which brought four successive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994 as well as the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

A centre-forward in his playing days, Christiansen only featured twice for Barca’s first team but he did represent Spain internationally, winning two caps.

Now 51, he was a surprise hire for Panama in 2020 after spells at Union Saint-Gilloise (2019-20) in Belgium and Leeds United (2017-18) in the English Championship, where he was dismissed after half a season in charge. Some saw his Panama team failing to secure qualification for the 2022 World Cup as regression, given the nation had made the 2018 finals, but over time the positives have grown.

Christiansen was made Panama boss in July 2020 (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Influenced by his formative years with Barcelona, Christiansen’s Panama have developed into a ball-dominant team incorporating positional play from a 3-4-3 formation. But they have also added substance to that style.

Copa America - Figure 2
Photo The Athletic

On the way to reaching the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, they beat Qatar 4-0 and knocked out a weakened United States team on penalties. They missed out on the trophy after a 1-0 defeat by Mexico, but finishing fourth in the 2023-24 CONCACAF Nations League was also seen as a good achievement.


How Thomas Christiansen has brought Cruyff's ideology to Panama

“Imagine how advanced and how different (Cruyff) saw football,” Christiansen told The Athletic in March. “With time and with all that knowledge, you understand what he was looking for. That’s the type of methodology that we want to implement with Panama.

“We know that this is going to be a long process. There will be good and bad moments. Right now, we’re enjoying the good moments.”

The household name you haven’t heard of yet

When Inter Miami faced Houston Dynamo in last year’s U.S. Open Cup final, there was a race in Panama to secure the TV rights. Of course, a certain No 10 in Miami commands attention whenever he plays, but there was a particular local interest for this occasion.

Providing the creative spark for Dynamo in their 2-1 victory in October was Adalberto ‘Coco’ Carrasquilla, the emerging star of Panamanian football.

Copa America - Figure 3
Photo The Athletic

Carrasquilla is the rising star of Panama’s team (Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images)

When you flick Panama on during the Copa America this summer, Carrasquilla will be the first player to catch your eye. The 25-year-old dances through midfield with a poise and athleticism that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Even when it looks like he is about to lose the ball, he drops a shoulder and shifts past his man.

He was named player of the tournament at last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Now the face of the Dynamo and his national team, it seems inevitable that a move to Europe or one of the big clubs of the Americas will be on the cards. If he impresses this summer, it may come sooner than later.


Under Christiansen, Panama have a clear identity.

While qualifying for their first World Cup in 2018 was a huge achievement for a developing nation of 4.4million people, they lost all three matches in Russia — to England, Belgium and Tunisia — by an aggregate score of 11-2. The 6-1 defeat by England was particularly bruising, highlighting that they would have to evolve from the aggressive style employed under Hernan Gomez to be competitive at the highest level.

Panama now line up in a structured 3-4-3, with pace in wide positions complimented by physicality and technical quality in central areas.

Copa America - Figure 4
Photo The Athletic

While they have become accustomed to dominating possession in CONCACAF, the elevated level of opposition at Copa America may prompt Christiansen to instruct his players to surrender the ball but their understanding of the structure should make this transition seamless.


This tournament may see Carrasquilla emerge as a genuine top-level talent, but it will be difficult for him to carry the burden. Beyond marauding right wing-back Michael Amir Murillo, who made 16 league appearances and scored three goals for Marseille last season, Panama have no players in Europe’s top five leagues.

Murillo (left) celebrating a goal with Panama last year (Leonardo Munoz/AFP via Getty Images)

Against elite teams such as Uruguay, Panama’s first opponents on June 24, Christiansen’s side will likely sit back and hit on the break. Without first-class players in attacking positions, they may struggle to take advantage of the few chances the team will get.

Thing you didn’t know

After beating Costa Rica 2-1 to secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Juan Carlos Varela, then president of Panama, declared a national holiday to commemorate the achievement.

Roman Torres, who scored the 87th-minute winner, is now considered a national hero. His face was emblazoned across billboards, bus stops and sports shops throughout Panama City, the nation’s capital. Capped 120 times, Torres was Panama’s highest-profile and most recognisable player until he retired from international football in 2019.

Copa America - Figure 5
Photo The Athletic
Expectations back home

Panama are among the weakest teams at the tournament, so few fans expect them to progress past the group stages. Uruguay and the U.S. are considerably stronger, but if Panama were to somehow snatch a draw against either of them, progress might come down to whether they can beat Bolivia, a team of similar standing.

Panama’s Copa America squad

Goalkeepers: Luis Mejia (Nacional), Cesar Samudio (Marathon), Orlando Mosquera (Maccabi Tel Aviv).

Defenders: Eduardo Anderson (Saprissa), Jose Cordoba (Norwich City), Eric Davis (Kosice), Ivan Anderson (Fortaleza), Michael Amir Murillo (Marseille), Cesar Blackman (Slovan Bratislava), Edgardo Farina (Municipal), Roderick Miller (Turan Tovuz), Omar Valencia (NY Red Bulls).

Midfielders: Anibal Godoy (Nashville), Adalberto Carrasquilla (Houston Dynamo), Cristian Martinez (Al Jandal), Jose Luis Rodriguez (Famalicao), Edgar Barcenas (Mazatlan), Jovani Welch (Academico Viseu), Freddy Gondola (Maccabi Bnei Reineh), Carlos Harvey (Minnesota), Adiel Ayarza (Cienciano), Cesar Yanis (San Carlos), Kahiser Lenis (Jaguares de Cerdoba).

Forwards: Ismael Diaz (Universidad Catolica), Jose Fajardo (Universidad Catolica), Eduardo Guerrero (Zorya Luhansk).

(Top image: Matthew Ashton – AMA, Shaun Clark via Getty Images, design by John Bradford)

Elias Burke is a staff writer covering European football and transfers. He has previously covered U.S. soccer, West Bromwich Albion and Derby County for The Athletic. He is based in London. Follow Elias on Twitter @eliasburke

Read more
Similar news