What: Puerto Rican Football Federation has signed former Honduran star Amado Guevara to rebuild the soccer program.
Why it matters: The soccer program is attempting to gain international success as the island rebuilds from the damage left behind by Hurricane Maria.
As a former captain of the Honduran national soccer team (@FenafuthOrg), Amado Guevara (@AmadoGuevara20) has taken on many challenges throughout his soccer career, including leading the team to a 2010 World Cup appearance.
But none of those obstacles are as great as the one he is currently battling in the Caribbean. As the new head coach of the Puerto Rican national team (@FutbolPR), Guevara has an immense task ahead of him.
Forget the fact that the commonwealth island has never had the talent to participate in a FIFA World Cup or CONCACAF Gold Cup. Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation left behind Hurricane Maria.
Despite claims of great success in rebuilding the island, by the Trump Administration, Puerto Rico’s recovery has been slow and inconsistent. Hurricane Maria left behind $90 million worth of damage, according to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, while a George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (@GWpublichealth) study estimates that almost 3000 people died as a result of the natural disaster.
“We are happy, first for the work that has been done, and for the invitation that they made to be part of this project, but above all the idea is to work, work and work,” said Guevara to Honduran publication El Nuevo Dia (@ElNuevoDia). “That is the philosophy. Try to reach the objectives that we want to achieve. The first one we have set is the Nations Cup.”
The CONCACAF (@Concacaf) Nations Cup is the inaugural tournament used as qualifiers for the newly expanded CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. Puerto Rico has been grouped with Saint Kitts and Nevis (@SKNFA_), Martinique (@LFM972_officiel), Belize (@bzefootballfed) and Grenada (@GrenadaFootball).
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Guevara of the tournament. “The only way to get better is to play competitive matches and now players from all nations can develop more and grow as footballers.”
Guevara has had a rough start to his coaching career. Puerto Rico lost to Saint Kitts and Nevis 1-0 on the road, in September. The squad followed that up with a 1-0 loss to Martinique, in an emotional home match for the Puerto Rican national team, who were making their return to Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel.
Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel, a baseball stadium converted into a soccer-specific venue, is the home field of the national team that was battered by Hurricane Maria. The Puerto Rican Football Federation charged fans free admission for the October match against Martinique for their team’s first home game since their 2017 Caribbean Cup Third Round qualifier against Curaçao (@FutbolCuracao).
“He lost his debut as the Puerto Rico coach versus Martinique but just the fact that a guy like him wanted to be there is pretty important for that team,” said ESPN Mexico correspondent Tony Alvarez (@Tonyar27).
Though beisbol may be king on La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico does have 76 years of soccer history. Not great history, but history nonetheless. Since playing their inaugural 1-1 draw against Cuba, in 1940, Puerto Rico spent the next 30 years winless, until a 3-0 victory over the Bahamas, in 1979.
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The program failed to build on that success, winning sporadically against teams such teams as the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Martinique before going through a 17-year winless drought between 1995 through 2007.
Eric Labrador, president of the Puerto Rican Football Federation, sees the signing of Guevara as a key component in kickstarting the soccer program to a different level.
“It’s very important because this is going to change the way we do soccer in Puerto Rico,” said Labrador to Honduran newspaper El Nuevo Dia.
Guevara does bring some bench experience to the Puerto Rican locker room, having worked with Jorge Luis Pinto as part of the coaching staff of the Honduran national team that fell a game short of qualifying into the 2018 World Cup.
He lost his debut as the Puerto Rico coach versus Martinique but just the fact that a guy like him wanted to be there is pretty important for that team
“Amado feels like he has learned a lot from Jorge Luis Pinto and that he’s ready for the challenge,” said José A. Rodríguez (@Jarm21), editor-in-chief for Deporte Total USA. “He is very well prepared and it’s now time to go on and prove that he can lead a team as a coach like he did for many years as a player. The positive side of things is basically that he is working without any pressure but his own.”
Despite being a rookie coach, Puerto Rican Football Federation officials are hoping that Guevara’s vast experience as captain of the Honduran national team, as well as his stints with Major League Soccer‘s (@MLS) New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls), Toronto FC (@torontofc) and the defunct Chivas USA, as well as Honduran powerhouse Club Motagua (@MOTAGUAcom), can change the culture of the entire program.
“He can implement that knowledge he acquired during his playing days and try to create a good and successful system for his coaching career, starting with a small group of guys that dedicate themselves to others things but that can build a foundation for his own success come the near future,” said Alvarez.
While Guevara is excited about the challenges currently in front of him, he has made no secret he is interested in someday coaching the Honduran national team. Guevara is hoping that a successful stint in Puerto Rico may help him land the Honduran coaching job, down the road.
“Considering that he’s aiming to be the coach of his home country Honduras, even though it is a difficult situation going on in the island so far, you can say that anything good that he can do will be well seen by the people in the [Honduran] office,” said Alvarez. “If you see the big picture, he doesn’t have many resources to be successful, therefore if he can make them go the Gold Cup and get some wins in friendly matches, it’s ok. And if he can’t, nobody will say anything bad about his job because he has not much to work with.”
For his part, while Guevara dreams of coaching Los Catrachos, Puerto Rico’s coach is fully focused on his new career and the task at hand of changing the culture of the island’s soccer program.
“You have to manage more things,” said Guevara. “As a player, you only worry about playing. Coaching is different, but it is everything that I expected and I’m enjoying it.”
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