MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Very few opportunities can make an athlete as proud as representing his native land at the international level. At the age of 19, Gustavo Rivera of Barry University’s men’s soccer team has already experienced it and looks to return in an effort to get Puerto Rico to the CONCACAF Tournament in Mexico.
Rivera, a freshman defender for the Buccaneers, has made an immediate impact having played in all eight contest thus far and has started the last four games.
The San Juan native previously played with both the U-20 Puerto Rican squad and has been called up to the 1st Team (National Squad) during World Cup Qualifiers.
This past summer Rivera helped Puerto Rico to a pair of 2-0 victories over Bermuda and Barbados as well as a 0-0 draw versus Haiti in the first round of the Caribbean Group for the CONCACAF qualifiers. Rivera and El Huracán Azul (The Blue Hurricane) now set their eyes on Jamaica as Puerto Rico U-20’s will look to qualify for the CONCACAF for the first time in the nation’s history.
Soccer in Puerto Rico has increased not only in popularity but in the success they’ve enjoyed in recent competitions. On Aug. 15th, they hosted the European and World Champions Spain in an international friendly and came away with 2-1 defeat, (but a strong showing), against “La Furia Roja” (The Red Fury).
“Having recently played Spain in a tough match and now our U-20’s reaching the second round of the Caribbean qualifier is a very important step for us,” said Rivera. “We’ve progressed from a team that no one talked about to playing Spain and other elite teams on the world stage.”
“It’s been a great experience to represent my country in international play,” said Rivera. Playing primarily right-back for Puerto Rico, Rivera has grown accustomed to their style of play.
“Our team (Puerto Rico) is very technical, in the way we play. We like to keep the ball on the ground and posses the ball. It’s been great playing at the international level with strong competition but when compared to the Division II college game, I must say college has been a more physical style of play.”
Former Buccaneers Andres Perez and Marco Velez of the Puerto Rico Islanders are on the current National 1st team roster, something Rivera aspires to achieve in the near future.
“I’ve been called-up to play with the first team in the past but my goal is certainly to be a regular member of the First-Team squad.”
Velez, a friend of Rivera, is a big reason why he came to Barry this fall.
“Marco is a close friend and has been a great help in the process, not only with the national team but also in getting me to Barry. He was the one who put me in contact with Coach McCrath and told me about the soccer program and Barry University as a whole.”
The qualifier will run from Nov. 3-12th and Puerto Rico is slated to face Trinidad and Tobago on Nov. 5th with matchups versus Curacao and Haiti lying ahead. The CONCACAF Tournament will be hosted by the 2012 reigning champions Mexico.