Back in 2009, the status quo of club football in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone was thoroughly shaken up, and from a very unexpected source. In a region where sides from Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and Honduras usually hold sway, complete outsiders Puerto Rico Islanders stormed all the way to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League, where their run was only ended on penalties by Mexican heavyweights Cruz Azul.
What’s more, there are now signs of another powerful side in the making in Puerto Rico, where the beautiful game’s popularity remains eclipsed by sports such as boxing, basketball and baseball. Yet thanks to an approach based around the maxims of sustained hard work, professionalism and responsibility, Bayamon Futbol Club are aiming to write a regional success story of their own – as FIFA.com reveals.
Short on history, big on ambition
Nicknamed Los Vaqueros, Bayamon were only founded in 2008, although they wasted little time in making their mark. In fact, the club emerged victorious in their very first season in the Puerto Rican top flight in 2009, clinching the Liguilla title with a 3-2 final win over Atletico de San Juan, this after finishing the regular season in second spot.
This rapid-fire triumph was no fluke, with club President Alberto Santiago a key driving force behind the scenes. Born in Puerto Rico, Santiago emigrated to Spain with his family as a boy, a move which helped foster his passion for football and particularly local La Liga club Sevilla.
Once he reached adulthood, however, Santiago felt the moment was ripe to return to the country of his birth and use his knowledge of the Spanish game to make a splash in the Caribbean. As good as his word, Santiago subsequently invested in first-class facilities for his club, setting standards never before seen in the area. Moreover, Bayamon are the only club in Puerto Rico that field teams in every age category from nine years and above, as well as boasting a women’s side.
Supplying the icing on the cake is the hosting of the annual Copa Ciudad de Bayamon. A competition which provides a showcase for the finest performers on the Puerto Rican amateur scene, the Copa also gives Los Vaqueros the opportunity to unearth raw new talent with which to boost their first-team pool.
A bright future
Determined to make Bayamon a power in the region, Santiago sought the help of his beloved Sevilla. The two clubs came to an agreement under which the Andalucian outfit would provide the Puerto Ricans with a first-class coach and a trainer.
The men in question were Spaniards David Caballero and Jesus Franco, who helped Bayamon to the 2011 Nacional Liga title in their first season at the club. Some 4,000 fans showed up for the final, an enormous crowd given that football is still nowhere near as popular as the island’s more traditional sports.
The most recent title success was all the more impressive given that the club had been largely inactive for the preceding 18 months, following administrative problems in the Puerto Rico Soccer League in which they had been participating.
The agreement with Sevilla also allows for Bayamon players adjudged sufficiently talented to try out with the Spanish club. The arrangement has already started to bear fruit, with Puerto Rico international Andres Cabrero spending 18 days last month on trial with the Sevilla reserve team and creating a very good impression.
Commenting on Cabrero’s experience, a very proud Santiago said recently: “It’s been a real positive and has sent a message internationally that Puerto Rico also has high quality footballers. Hopefully he’ll have another chance to continue his encouraging development in Spain.”
The young club still has much to achieve and the coach Caballero has now expanded his focus to include that of regional success: “We’re currently planning in terms of CONCACAF football and will also be trying to win the 2012 Copa de Puerto Rico.
"We’re able to work towards this and have at our disposal a quality facilities and degree of professionalism in the players that many a Spanish club would envy. I feel privileged to work here,” Caballero added.
So the goals have been set and the organisation and commitment to bring them about are also in place. Who is to say, therefore, that when people talk about Puerto Rican football in the near future that Bayamon Football Club, and not just the Islanders, will spring to mind.