Puerto Rico FC still dealing with Maria

Nomads of the NASL
PRFC - Maria

Photo credit: Aaron Gunyon/Soc Takes

INDIANAPOLIS — Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The devastation has been widely reported and the story in recent days has centered around political spin. While the people of Puerto Rico have been dealing with the effects of a catastrophic storm, Puerto Rico FC are attempting to finish out their first full year in the North American Soccer League. It’s not going to be easy. It won’t be in Puerto Rico either.

Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium has hosted PRFC since their first kick in July 2016, but the storm has rendered that facility unfit for competition. There are a number of reasons why, but the key point here is that even the sports teams have become homeless in the U.S. territory. Puerto Rico FC will abandon its home and face all of its opponents without a single shred of home field advantage. That is to say nothing of the damaging revenue loss that will come from such a decision.

Even while dealing with the uncertainty and the recovery at home, PRFC has made the trip to play a rescheduled match versus the Indy Eleven on Wednesday. The match was originally slated to be played in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, but Maria made that impossible. Now there are two teams dealing with a midweek match as the season winds down. No one is complaining; everyone is dealing.

PRFC

Image credit: Puerto Rico FC

Indy Eleven captain Colin Falvey spoke to Soc Takes on Tuesday during a media event for both teams and shared his thoughts and insights about playing a match after such an ordeal. The event was hosted by Indy Eleven and was part of a fundraising effort put forward by the home team.

“They are going through a horrible horrible time,” Falvey said. “They have many issues going on. Football is obviously a secondary thing for them. Looking at them getting back and playing their first game against New York last weekend, you could still see that they are a very good team … I think when a tragedy like that happens, you go on the field, it’s like a release. You’ve got 90 minutes to put all your troubles to one side. For me, looking in from the outside, they did that against New York. They were able to get back to their profession during a very difficult time.”

Always measured in his response, the veteran center back shared what it’s like speaking footballer to footballer in the wake of something as big as Maria.

“You don’t even talk football at first,” Falvey added. “That comes later. The first 20-30 minutes of our conversation with some of their guys was about how they are coping with their day-to-day life, how their families are doing. I asked, ‘What we’re seeing on the news, is that exactly what is going on there or is it worse.’ They just filled us in that it’s probably worse than what we’re seeing. There is no water. There is no gas. In the beginning, people didn’t have cash so they weren’t even able to access the few stores that were available. They said it was getting pretty desperate at one point. The football side of things are as they should be — secondary. They’ve got bigger issues than football right now … but just talking to them, they made us well aware that they are ready to go tomorrow night. It’s nice to hear that they’ve still got their competitive spirit.”

Soc Takes also spoke with several members of PRFC. Not all players were made available for questions. None of the native Puerto Ricans were in attendance Tuesday.

Jordi Quintilla, a 23-year-old Spanish midfielder, was asked how important it was for his team to finish out the season, and his first thoughts targeted the postseason.

“For us, it is very important,” he said. “First of all, our goal all season is to qualify for the playoffs. We have to finish the season as strong as we can. That is the major thing that we want to do.”

These athletes are used to being on the road and living out of suitcases. Players like Phanuel Kavita will keep his mind on the game.

“Being a professional, you just have to adapt to it,” Kavita explained. “We’ve all traveled multiple times in our career. It affects you a little bit. But as long as we all have the same focus and the same mindset of what we want to accomplish as a group … I think we are pretty focused for these upcoming games.”

Both of these players understand how important it is to represent their club and Puerto Rico as a community. They will play for pride and for the crest on their shirts. Their teammates and families have been greatly impacted by the storm and they will be dealing with the aftermath for many months to come. Quintilla offered the most poignant reminder and perhaps unintentionally illustrated what so many take for granted here on the mainland.

“Unfortunately, there will be a lot of people that won’t be able to watch the game because they don’t have power and because it’s all broken down,” Quintilla said. “But I know they will have news of us and they will be proud of us that we are playing for them … and for the island.”

The Indy Eleven will face Puerto Rico FC on Wednesday at Carroll Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

How to help

There are ways to help out and there is still time to make a difference. Consider donating to either Nipun Chopra’s GoFundMe, Sid Rivera’s or Carmelo Anthony’s You Caring initiative which has raised over $300,000 to date.

Follow Aaron on Twitter: @AGunyon.

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