The Club That Inspired An Island
There have been many cases in world football where the exploits of a national team have had a positive effect on the domestic game of a particular country. In Puerto Rico the exact opposite has occurred in the past five years. The Puerto Rico Islanders have been the driving force behind the sudden interest football has garnered on the island.
Founded in 2003, though an earlier Islanders’ franchise under the same team existed in the mid 1990′s, the Puerto Rico Islanders have helped revolutionise the football landscape in Puerto Rico. A place where baseball and basketball have always reigned supreme, football in Puerto Rico was finally given life with the introduction of the Bayamon-based club.
The Islanders have competed in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) First Division since 2004. The team have enjoyed superb fan support in their short history as they have been embraced by the entire island thanks to the team’s success and the public’s thirst for football.
The islanders have improved every season and under the guidance of current manager Colin Clarke have enjoyed their greatest successes by advancing to the semi-finals of the USL play-offs last season. The club will also have the opportunity later this year to qualify for the revamped CONCACAF Champions’ League. Supporters packed the club’s Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel (capacity 12,500) during last season’s play-off run and Clarke credits the club with the overall improvement of football on the island, “If the islanders hadn’t come around, then football here would still be struggling along.”
Over the years some top-notch foreign players have turned out for the club, including Argentine Gustavo Barros Schelotto, Chilean Sebastian Rozental, and Salvadoran Raul Diaz Arce. Diego Maradona’s brother, Hugo, also coached the side during the early days.
It has been the Puerto Rican players themselves though that have been the biggest story. The likes of Marco Velez, Petter Villegas, and Andres Cabrera, all current Puerto Rican internationals, have played for the team. The club has given Puerto Rican football an identity and has helped form the nucleus of the national team and that perhaps will be the lasting legacy of the Islanders as football in Puerto Rico continues to improve.