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April 16, 2004
One of the most important matches in Puerto Rican soccer will take place this weekend. Its not the one that comes to mind the United Soccer Leagues Puerto Rico Islanders versus the Toronto Lynx in the Islanders debut Saturday at Bayamóns Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium.
No. This match will be played off the field, at the Caribe Hilton hotel, and one day prior to the big game. Thats when, for the first time in six years, the Puerto Rico Soccer Federation will hold elections.
Some 30-35 clubs and soccer organizations are expected to vote in the process, which will be supervised by the International Soccer Federation (FIFA).
FIFA representative Vincent Mounier will be joined by CONCACAFs Oscar Thamar, of Guatemala, to make sure there is no foul play.
Why all the attention paid to the only Caribbean island where soccer is not a major sport? Because despite soccers lack of popularity in Puerto Rico, FIFA still invests a quarter of a million dollars annually here, perhaps in the hopes it can lift the games status up a few notches past baseball and basketball.
Nearly two years ago, FIFA, the richest and most powerful sports federation in the world, cut off Puerto Ricos funding after it allegedly discovered mismanagement of funds. The six-man "normalizing committee" assigned to investigate and clean house finally finished its report and cleared the way for these elections.
Three presidential candidates have emerged former Islanders president Joe Serralta, womens Superior League president Anita Rabell and Artemio López.
Rabell, who heads up the womens program, played on the first womens team to represent Puerto Rico internationally in World Cup qualifying nearly a decade ago. Serralta, meanwhile, resigned his post with the Islanders specifically to run for the federations top spot.
Dr. Josean Berríos, a member of FIFAs "normalizing committee," said hes optimistic the elections will point the sport back in the right direction after being mired in infighting and corruption for years.
"Right now we have to channel our efforts and straighten up the federation," said Berríos. "Theres so much potential. What we need is good leadership. Im hopeful that someone with unifying ideas will come forth. We have to learn that it is OK to have our differences but we cant have a civil war."
Expos with their own cross to bear
The Montreal Expos picked one of the toughest days of the year, Good Friday, to open their 22-game San Juan season at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. A total of 14,739 souls turned out to watch the New York Mets beat the Expos, 3-2. Given the solemn nature of the holiday, even Expos promoter Antonio Muñoz admitted the attendance figure wasnt bad. The Expos opened prior to Easter weekend last year and didnt actually play on Good Friday as that game was rained out.
Of course, it doesnt explain why attendance dropped over the weekend. For Saturdays 1-0 Expos win over the Mets, just 11,957 fans turned out and Easter Sundays crowd was 10,623 to see the Mets beat Montreal, 4-1. Munoz said he expects attendance will pick up for the second homestand. Muñoz, meanwhile, has not given up his efforts to land the Expos or another team, possibly the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for games in 2005.
Lugo, Hernández winners at P.R. regatta
Kracker Jack, Kosaloka and Fraíto Lugos Orion were the winners last week in their respective classes at the Puerto Rico International Regatta in Fajardo. Just as he did in the Rolex Regatta two weeks earlier, Lugo won the J-24 class with five first places. In the Beach Cats category, Enrique "Quique" Hernández outclassed all other competition.
Action-packed sports slate
The Puerto Rico International Regatta had tough competition last weekend. What with the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan and Puerto Rico playing Jamaica in Davis Cup action over in Bayamón, you had to really love sailing to trek out to Fajardo to watch a regatta you can barely see from the shore.
And thats the way the sports world has been going in Puerto Rico this year. Used to be, wed be lucky if there was one major event each weekend. Now we have a moveable feast.
And boy, is it moving.
This weekend promises to be another blockbuster sports extravaganza, even without the Montreal Expos, who left San Juan after the three-game series versus the Florida Marlins. The Islanders, Puerto Ricos United Soccer League franchise, debut April 17 versus the Toronto Lynx.
That same night in New Yorks Madison Square Garden, two Puerto Rican heavyweights, Fres Oquendo and John Ruiz, face off in the ring. WBA welterweight champ José Antonio "El Gallo" Rivera will defend his title against Nicaraguas Ricardo Mayorga on that same Don King productions fight card.
Meanwhile, in Ponce the greatest intercollegiate sporting event of the year will be taking place the Intercollegiate Athletic Leagues track and field championships, or Justas. The one-day meet puts the finishing touches on a weeklong sports festival for the island universities. Dont expect any world records as the meet is more of a party than an athletic contest. Two Olympic hopefuls will be competing: Vanessa García in swimming and Denisse Orengo in the pole vault.
The Womens Superior Volleyball League final series between Caguas and Carolina continues as does the Superior Basketball Leagues regular season.
Olympic boxing watch
Heavyweight Víctor Bisbal became Puerto Ricos fifth and final boxer to qualify for the Athens Olympics last week after winning a 23-19 decision over Mexicos George García at the Americas qualifier held in Brazil.
Bisbal joins Alexander De Jesús (60 kilos), Juan López (54 kilos), Joseph Serrano (51 kilos) and Carlos Velázquez (57 kilos) to make up the islands boxing team for the summer Games. Puerto Rico qualified the exact same number of boxers, five, for the 2000 Games in Sydney. A total of 32 island athletes, including Puerto Ricos 12-man basketball team, have met qualifying standards for the summer Olympics.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.