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Panama make real (but slow) progress ahead of Copa America clash with the USMNT

Get to know Thomas Christiansen's team before they meet the United States in the Copa America's group stage.

3 min read

This story originally appeared in Getting CONCACAFed. For comprehensive Copa America coverage, subscribe to Jon’s fantastic newsletter that covers the good, the bad, and the weird for soccer in this region.

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Panama is building. And building. And building.

That’s not new for the nation. A building boom last decade earned Panama City comparisons to Dubai or Miami, with the skyline reflecting the transitional from sleepy capital city to transnational business hub.

But just like putting up a skyscraper, nothing is quick for Panama as it constructs its national team.

It has become the best team in Central America and now is working to compete as the top team in Concacaf, meeting the reigning Nations League champion the United States in a Copa América group match tonight.

“We always want to compete: Whether it’s a friendly, qualification, tournaments. This is a tournament we haven’t participated in, so we have to enjoy it, experience it and compete because it’ll help us for World Cup qualification and the matches in the future,” Panama manager Thomas Christiansen said. “There are a lot of positive elements about participating in this tournament.”

It doesn’t sound like a man expecting to lift the trophy on July 16, or maybe one who thinks he’ll get out of the group. But the former Spain international is being realistic. Panama isn’t going to lift a trophy yet in Concacaf, much less when the entire Americas are involved.

If the Caribbean nations who nationalize players or get commitments from those already eligible in the top leagues are speed-running their roster construction, Panama is doing one of those videos where the streamer stops to pick up every coin.

Progress is slow in Panama. For every positive moment, there are conditions. Every player on the Copa América roster is playing outside Panama, but only one is in a top-five league.

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