Football growing in popularity in Puerto Rico
Federation with impressive plans
World Cup qualifiers the next big test
Traditionally a hotbed of baseball, basketball and boxing, Puerto Rico has been broadening its sporting horizons for several years now. The Boricuas, accustomed to excelling in the baseball diamond, now aspire to extending that prowess to football, a sport that is increasingly arousing passions on the Caribbean island.
Football was formalised in Puerto Rico in the early 20th century, when a group of merchants from San Juan founded the Commercio Sporting Club. However, football was being played on the island well before then, having been introduced by sailors and other visitors from Spain and the United States.
For its part, the Puerto Rican Football Federation (PRFF) was officially founded in 1940, but it was not until 1960 that it joined FIFA and began hosting official games.
Puerto Rico, which has close to four million inhabitants, began an ambitious development project in 2019, when Ivan Rivera took over the presidency of the PRFF at the age of 29.
The first step was to give structure to the federation while starting to improve standards of play. One of the keys to achieving this was the appointment of Argentinian Andres Mirabelli as coordinator of the national teams.
"We’re looking to plan for the long term here because the changes won’t happen overnight. We’re working with the U-13 and 14s a couple of times a week. And so, when a player reaches 18 and maybe goes to play in America, it won't take a month to get him up to speed, as he’ll already know what’s expected," he said recently in a radio interview on Minuto 90.
The territory boasts one of most modern infrastructures in the Caribbean
Its traditional music (salsa and reggaeton) is popular all over the world
The official language is Spanish
Despite its small size, it has many ecosystems, including dry and rain forests, mountain, coast, and karstic regions
No one could fault the ambition of Puerto Rico's footballing projects, the first of which is to construct a National Football Centre.
"It's a project that sounds innovative, but for most countries where football’s played, it’s something that’s already been in existence for 10 or 15 years," Ivan Rivera said when the federation announced they were looking for a suitable site to begin construction.
The PRFF is nonetheless aware that the current interest in and passion for football in Puerto Rico cannot wait for all these projects to come to fruition, which is why they went to such lengths to appoint Dave Sarachan as the new national team head coach.
The 66-year-old American has 45 years of experience in MLS, mainly as an assistant coach. However, between 1999 and 2002 he worked alongside Bruce Arena with the USA national team – experience that will be critical if Puerto Rico are to move up the Concacaf ranks.
"The World Cup qualifiers are incredibly special to me," Sarachan told the PRFF’s official website. "So, with Puerto Rico, the challenge right now is to move this team in a positive direction, and that excites me," he said.
It remains to be seen what lies in store for Puerto Rico when they kick off their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying campaign against St. Kitts and Nevis on 24 March. Win or lose, one thing is certain: the joys and sorrows of the present are the building blocks of a better future.