What do you remember most of playing against the Puerto Rico Islanders when you played for the Rowdies?
JV: When I was playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies I used to love traveling to Puerto Rico to play the Islanders. It was by far my favorite road trip. I always had family, friends or acquaintances at the games and I enjoyed playing in front of the Puerto Rican fans – I always felt like I had a connection with the fans, even when they were yelling at me. I liked the stadium in Bayamon; it was an intimate feel. Before games, I enjoyed walking around Old San Juan or finding a remote beach somewhere to relax in the shade. I always love spending time in Puerto Rico. I love recalling my childhood visits trapping salamanders in Caguas and collecting mangoes in Ponce.
If you ever had the opportunity to play for Puerto Rico, would you have done it? Why or why not?
JV: When Colin Clarke was coaching Puerto Rico, I was asked several times to play for the Puerto Rican National Team but I never accepted the invitation. Coming through the U.S. Youth National Team system, including two years at the Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., I always had aspirations to represent the United States at the highest level; that was my dream since I was a kid. And for a while, I think I was pretty close. As such, I did not want to commit to Puerto Rico in the hopes I would someday earn a U.S. call-up if I continued to work hard and was awarded the opportunity. Of course that never did happen before I decided to retire from professional soccer to settle down with my family.
In retrospect, I wish I would have accepted the invitation to play for Puerto Rico. I have a strong connection to Puerto Rico; its culture is part of who I am and who I’ve always been. I feel like I could have helped take the national team program to the next level and help build the team. While I don’t play professionally anymore, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life, and still just 27 years old. I have fresh legs and would gladly accept a call to play for Puerto Rico now…if they still want me!
Do you think that Jurgen Klinsmann might call your brother for the US National squad? If not, do you think Zarek might consider representing Puerto Rico?