The Rise, Fall and Rise of Soccer In Puerto Rico

By Bernard Aanonsen/ October 23rd 2011

  Across the entire world, soccer is easily the most played sport in the world. This does not apply to Puerto Rico, an island in which for decades sports like basketball and baseball have dominated the attention of the public. However in recent years, this sport has started to gather the attention of the public, especially of new generations.

This was not always the case, as soccer was actually one of the first sports, if not the first one, to arrive in the island. Edwin Jusino, co-owner and main editor of a website known as futbolboricua.net, mentioned that as with the rest of the world, the sport was once very popular in the island but certain events led to its downfall.

Importance and Popularity around the World

Many consider soccer to be one of the best and most complete sports. Professor Adam Rivera (Physical Education), of the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) considers the sport to be essential in the physical development of children. He also added, “Soccer is essential for children because not only does it help them develop physical condition but it also helps them develop coordination, something that is not easily achievable.”

He is not the only one that thinks this way, Alejandro Gonzales a student of the UPRM and a former soccer player for a local league, mentioned that he considers the sport to be one of the most all-round sports. In his own words he said, “I believe that soccer is one of the most all-round sports, in the sense that not only do you need physical condition but you need technique, strategy and strength.”

There are many reasons as to why the sport is so popular, but the key factor has to be the accessibility to virtually anyone whether rich or poor. Professor Rivera mentioned that in order to play, you only need a ball and a minimum of two players. Another factor that supports this, is the fact that soccer can be played almost anywhere. All of this leads to the World Cup being the most watched sports event around the world.

The Beginning and Fall of Soccer in the Island

Soccer was introduced to the island by sailors and an interesting fact is that, this year it has been exactly one hundred years that the first soccer match took place on the island. The first match took place in what is called “El Morro”.

At first the sport was practiced by common people. This however, would change in time as Soccer would fade from the spotlight. There were many key factors that brought its downfall but one of the central ones is without a doubt the American influence. When asked about this, Professor Rivera said: “I believe one of the key factors that kept soccer away from the public was the American influence. Now considering the sport has taken popularity in America, it is also affecting us.” Edwin Jusino takes this point further by stating: “When the Americans invaded Puerto Rico, there was so much discontent with Spain, that people stopped practicing things that were somehow associated with the Spaniards and in turn, started favoring American traditions and sports such as basketball. Soccer was a victim of this.”

Edwin also pointed out that another factor in the fall of soccer was the high level of corruption in the sport. This would practically eliminate the competition across the island, only surviving a few elite groups in the metropolis sector of the island. Later on, the FIFA would intervene and through an election, make Joe Serralta the president of the “Federacion Puertoriquena de Futbol” (FBF).

Sadly this has been met with mixed results, as some claim that the administration does not have a proper vision for the future of the sport. Some even say that the FBF could be compared with “A hobo sitting on top of a gold mine.”

 Rise from the Ashes: How the Media Revitalized the Sport

It would not be until 2002 that the sport would finally come back to the spotlight. Edwin mentioned that with the arrival of Univision (A television channel), the World Cup was finally broadcasted in its entirety across the island. Before that, only a few select matches were aired on the island’s different channels. Now that it could be watched completely, a lot of people watched the Cup and were excited; as expected this began to stimulate interest in the sport. Since that, we have witnessed two more World Cups and each time, the fan base increases.

Professor Rivera also points out that another factor in this revitalization is due to immigration. A lot of people who have come from countries, in which soccer is practiced, have stimulated the Puerto Ricans to practice the sport as well.

Alejandro Gonzalez believes that other events such as Spain’s “La Liga” have impacted the public as well. In addition to that, the creation of the Puerto Rico Soccer League (PRSL), will increase the competition on the island which hopefully will also stimulate interest amongst the public.

The Long Road Ahead

Finally, when asked if Puerto Rico could one day make it to the World Cup, most were a bit skeptical but agree that with hard work, it could be possible. They say it would take many years to develop ourselves and be capable enough to compete also we would have to deal with disadvantages such as a limited population.

Soccer still has a long ways to go before it can become as dominant as other sports on the island; however the future seems bright. Professor Rivera believes that if things continue the way they are, we could in a period of 10 to 15 years, see the sport become a mainstream sport on the island. This could be possible considering that the new generations are growing fond with soccer.

Whether these predictions and visions will be realized, only time will tell. One thing is clear though, Puerto Ricans are starting to realize that there are other interesting sports besides Basketball and Baseball and this is opening the doors to a brighter future for sports in general.

 

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