Puerto Rico Islanders History
The Puerto Rico Islanders are a professional soccer franchise founded in 2003 by a group of local investors and several individuals highly committed to the sport. These individuals decided to provide their support to the highly complex and ambitious project of creating, in the small island of Puerto Rico, a true environment for the world’s most popular sport. Initially, the franchise became part of the A-League – now known as the United Soccer Leagues (USL). During the Islanders’ first season, the team began under the direction of Brazilian coach Vitor Hugo Barros, who after a rocky start was removed from the coaching position. The club’s Management then named Argentinean Hugo Maradona, brother of soccer legend Diego Maradona, as head coach.
After the inaugural season, the team signed several players who would later become the core of the team in future years. The team improved their record to 10 wins and 8 draws but failed to make it into the playoffs by one point. Still, the team received an important recognition when starting goalkeeper Daniel Kennedy was named USL rookie of the year.
In only their third year as a professional franchise, the Islanders were able to qualify for the USL playoffs. Coach Jorge Alvial led the ‘orange troops’ at the beginning of the season but after he resigned, it was Costa Rican Toribio Rojas who took the Islanders into the USL postseason. It was also in 2006 when the Islanders represented Puerto Rico in a competition outside of the USL. The team participated for the first time in the Caribbean Football Union’s Club Championship trying unsuccessfully to qualify for the CONCACF Champions’ Cup.
It was clear during those early years that the team continued growing unabated. For the 2007 season, the club set higher expectations for themselves in the USL and CONCACAF competitions. That year, the Islanders hosted the first Puerto Rico USL-MLS Challenge where they played Major League Soccer (MLS) teams Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas. After a slow start in the 2007 USL season, the organization decided to bring ex FC Dallas coach Colin Clarke on board. With new signings and a new coach, the Islanders had a successful season: reaching the USL semi-finals for the first time, having defense Jay Needham named as USL rookie of the year, and ending up in 3rd place in the CFU Club Championship – thus securing a spot in the newly established CONCACAF Champions League.
In 2008, the Islanders had another season in which they set new records for the young club’s success. The team earned the USL Commissioner’s Cup for finishing in first place at the end of the regular season and also made their first trip to the USL final where they lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps by one goal. The Islanders then made history by participating in the CONCACAF Champions League and beating regional giants such as LD Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Santos Laguna (Mexico), and Tauro FC (Panama), on top of tying with CD Municipal (Guatemala). In addition, the Islanders earned the Organization of the Year award by the USL as well as having Colin Clarke named Coach of the Year, Bill Gaudette named Goalkeeper of the Year, Cristian Arrieta picked as Defense of the Year, and Jonathan Steele as Most Valuable Player of the USL.
After qualifying to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, the 2009 season began with a home-and-away series against C.D. Marathon of Honduras. After defeating the Honduran champions, the Islanders went on to play Cruz Azul (Mexico) in the semi-final round. The ‘orange troop’ defeated the Mexican giants 2-0 in a historic match in the Juan Ramón Loubriel stadium but later failed to advance to the finals when they were narrowly edged out in Mexico during a penalty shootout.
In 2010, the Islanders started the year full of confidence after their stellar run in the CONCACAF Champions League. The team’s goal was now to bring home the three championships: league (USSF-D2), CFU Club Championship, and the CONCACAF Champions League. Just as they had promised, they became champions of the Caribbean by winning the CFU Club Championship. At the end of July, the team bounced back from a rough patch in their regular season league performance after they managed a historic victory in LA against the LA Galaxy, champions of Major League Soccer, when they won 4-1 and later eliminated them from the CONCACAF Champions League. After the win against the LA Galaxy, the team was reinvigorated as they searched for their first league championship in club history. The Islanders managed to qualify for the USSF-D2 playoffs as the 8th, and last, seed. They then on went to play the Rochester Rhinos in the quarterfinals, dominating the series 5-1 (aggregate). After this, they went on to play their old rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the semifinals where the Islanders finally won in Vancouver with two goals by Jamaican international Nicholas Addlery. The finals would see the Islanders face the Carolina RailHawks for the USSF-D2 championship. The Islanders came out with a 2-0 lead after the first match in Bayamon and were eventually crowned champions in North Carolina after a 1-1 draw (3-1 aggregate) in Cary in front of a large group of fans that traveled to be a part of the Islanders’ first league championship.
Having won two championships in the year, the Islanders then traveled to Honduras to face C.D. Olimpia in the group phase of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Islanders needed a victory in Honduras in order to advance once again to the competition’s quarterfinals. After a tough and crowded schedule, the ‘orange troop’ were unable to win in Honduras but would return home proud of their 2010 accomplishments.
For 2011, the Islanders affiliated themselves to the North American Soccer League (NASL), the league sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) as the second division of professional soccer in the U.S. after the MLS. The 2011 season of the NASL will consist of 28 matches, 14 at home, and 14 away. The NASL teams for 2011 are: Puerto Rico Islanders, Montreal Impact, Carolina RailHawks, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton, Atlanta Silverbacks, NSC Minnesota Stars, and FC Tampa Bay.
Colin Clarke’s successful team –Adrian Whitbread (assistant coach) and Jack Stefanowski (goalkeeping coach) - will once again coach the club. Returning players for the 2011 season are: Cody Laurendi, Marco Vélez, Richard Martínez, Logan Emory, Scott Jones, Alexis Rivera, Kevon Villaroel, Joseph Salem, Osei Telesford, Joshua Hansen, Nicholas Addlery, Jonathan Faña, David Foley, and Noah Delgado. And the 10 new signings are: Aaron Pitchkolan, Jay Needham, Matthew Bouraee, Richard Martin, Ray Burse, Jamie Cunningham, Steven Beattie, Tyler Wilson, Leonardo Ly, and Jarad vanSchaik.
The 2010 USSF-D2 champions will begin the 2011 NASL season on April 9th when they visit the Carolina RailHawks in a rematch of the 2010 finals.
The ‘Tropa Naranja’ will have their home opener on April 26 against the NSC Minnesota Stars at the Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium, also known as ‘La Islandera’.
he Islanders will begin also their participation in the CFU Championship in a two-leg series against Walking Boyz, Co. playing the first leg in Surinam on May 7th and the second leg in Puerto Rico on May 14th.