What the Soccer Landscape Looks Like In Puerto Rico After the Islanders Era
In 2008, the Puerto Rico Islanders were on the brink of greatness, just a penalty round away from playing for the CONCACAF Champions League championship.
Fast forward four years later to 2012, and the franchise had all but disappeared. The heavy governmental financing of the project, coupled with a change in ruling party, when most of the ownership were heavily involved in the defeated government, mixed with a plummeting economy spelled the end for the club that placed Puerto Rican soccer on the international landscape.
It’s been two years since the news came, and Puerto Rican soccer is still struggling to climb out of the hole that the Islanders dug. Bayamón FC attempted to return an island franchise to the U.S. pyramid, in the form of Puerto Rico Bayamón FC. However due to negligence by then General Manager Ignacio Rodríguez and his team, and by the local Federation office not sending the paperwork to the USSF, the club had to sit out the American 2014 season. Despite this, the club has been active in the local professional league and will be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament come August.
The end of the Islanders hasn’t been all negative. Their absence has forced players to seek out pro opportunities elsewhere. Héctor “Pito” Ramos, and Joseph “Jackie” Marrero, two of Puerto Rico’s best prospects, whom had played for the Islanders in their last season in the NASL, have gone on to play abroad. Ramos was signed by Isidro Metapán of the Salvadorian 1st division and has won back to back championships in Clausura 2013 and Apertura 2014. Marrero is playing for a third division club in Finland, Kultsu FC, and had been rumored to have been scouted by Orlando City, though the talks fell through.
And they are not the only ones playing abroad. Alex Oikkonen, and Juany Coca, both members of the U20 squad that reached the CONCACAF finals in 2012, are also playing in Finland, while Emmanuel D’Andrea is playing for Spanish side Sevilla FC in their U20 side, a team that just won the youth Copa del Rey.
Without the Islanders, the National Squad will have less opportunities to nationalize American born players, which for some is good news, but in terms of the goalkeeping position, is bad news. The local professional league had been in recess for two years and is just now returning. FIFA had proposed funds to create a new league after several conditions were met, but internal federation politicking, as is usual in Puerto Rico, meant that the funds would be awarded to the Dominican Republic, and not to the PR Federation.
Without a team like the Islanders, or a local program that would bring high level soccer to the island every year regularly, interest in the sport may be extinguished, and everything that the Islanders achieved may have had been for nothing. It will take several years for the local pro league to reach the level of what the Islanders had been, and for it to take their place.