An Important Summer Ahead:
The U.S. Men's National Team and Puerto Rico have never met in an full international match, but this meeting couldn't come at a more important time for both sides as major international tournaments loom this summer. For the United States, it's the first of three important friendlies ahead of Copa America Centenario. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, will continue in their pursuit of qualifying for the 2017 Caribbean Cup. They'll face Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda this June, looking to advance to the third round and keep alive their hopes of qualification for next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium:
Home of St. Louis Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina, the city of Bayamón is located just off the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Originally built as a baseball stadium for local team Vaqueros de Bayamón in 1973, Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium was the home for now-defunct Puerto Rico Islanders of the North American Soccer League. After undergoing major renovations to become more soccer specific in 2012, the stadium has expanded its capacity to 22,000. Currently the home of domestic club Bayamón FC, the stadium will make a return to hosting NASL matches when FC Puerto Rico begins play in their inaugural season later this year.
Puerto Rico Soccer History:
On an island where baseball is king, soccer in Puerto Rico dates back 76 years. In 1940, a 1-1 draw against Cuba in Havana marked the first match for its national team. International buzz for Puerto Rico has never been too high, but in August of 2012, European champions Spain made a visit to Bayamón. In front of a crowd of 15,000, a full-strength Spain side took a 2-0 lead into the break through goals from Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas. In the second half, the hosts pulled one back when then Providence Friars forward Marc Cintron got behind the La Roja defense and beat Pepe Reina to his near post. An equalizer wasn’t in the cards and the match ended 2-1 in favor of the European champions. More recently in their bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Puerto Rico beat Grenada in the first leg of their second Qualifying round tie. However, a 2-0 defeat in the return leg saw The Blue Hurricane out of the competition.
Players To Watch:
Comprised mostly of players playing in their domestic league, Puerto Rico does feature one Major League Soccer player in New York City FC defender Jason Hernandez. Having made his international debut in March, he has more than 10 years of service in MLS and will be a key cog in trying to stymie an American attack made up of European-based players. One of Puerto Rico's European-based players, Juan Coca plays for Kultsu FC, a third division side in Finland. Coca scored twice in a Caribbean Cup qualifier against Anguilla earlier this year. His Kultsu FC teammate Andrés Cabrero will look to control the midfield. Capped at 19-years-old in 2008, Cabrero has scored five goals for his country. Up top, Joseph Marrero is a name American fans might become accustomed to this year. He's been one of the most consistent scoring threats in the Puerto Rico side, and will be playing for the newly formed Puerto Rico FC when the NASL season kicks off. In goal, one to look out for is Loyola University goalkeeper Matt Sanchez. A rising senior for the Greyhounds, the Owings Mill, Md., native is looking to continue a streak of good performances for the island territory. In December of 2015, he was named Man of the Match in a friendly against NYCFC.
Representing Both Teams:
Long before Jermaine Jones became cap-tied to the MNT after a short run of games with Germany, Chris Armas (pictured above) did the same in the early 1990s after featuring for another national side. Armas represented Puerto Rico in the 1993 Caribbean Cup where he led the Blue Hurricane through the group stage, the team’s highest finish to date in that competition. Armas went on to have a stellar career in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire. In 1998, he switched his allegiance to the United States. FIFA ruled at the time that the Caribbean Cup was not an official tournament, allowing Armas to switch to the MNT. Armas was capped 66 times and scored two goals for the U.S. and joins former players Jeff Cunningham (Jamaica), Martín Vásquez and Edgar Castillo (Mexico), Joe Gaetjens (Haiti) and Gordon Burness (Canada) to represent both the United States and another CONCACAF nation.