Friday, October 8, 2010
By NICHOLAS MURRAY
For Francisco Martinez-Cañavate, it was like bringing a piece of his childhood home to his new home.
A native of Sevilla, Spain, the 59-year-old doctor grew up a fan of La Liga’s Sevilla FC, so when the time came to try and secure an international partner that would help him get a new club for the Puerto Rico Soccer League off the ground there was only one logical choice.
Of course, as one of Sevilla FC’s most devoted fans, who would travel from Puerto Rico with his son Gustavo to see them play wherever they could, Martinez-Cañavate was someone that the club was already aware of.
“Sevilla had a show as part of its radio and television over in Europe called ‘Sevillistas Throughout The World’,” Gustavo explained. “Since my dad was from Seville, we always had close ties, we had family that we visit over there plenty of times during the year. I’ve vacationed there more times than I’ve spent summers in Puerto Rico; every single summer I used to go there. Through that radio show they did a couple of interviews with my dad and me during the games.”
Through the host of the radio show, Gustave Martinez-Cañavate explained their idea of developing a professional club in Puerto Rico, and how honored they would be if the club would bear the name of the club he and his father had grown up with. Sevilla agreed to a meeting, and soon a deal was struck.
“I told them about our project, how it was going to work,” Gustavo said. “They prepared a contract and my father went over there a couple of months after and signed a contract with the club and they gave us all the rights to use their shield, to modify it, and that they would help us out with uniforms, technical support. From then on we were born as Sevilla.”
Building a squad from the Puerto Rico Islanders ‘B’ team, a side Martinez-Cañavate admired and hoped to emulate, Sevilla PR found immediate success in the PRSL as it won the regular season and playoff titles in its first season in 2008. Now the club’s move into USL PRO is one that has already started to pay dividends, with Sevilla FC offering more support as the club continues to grow.
“They are offering us a lot more help now that we’re going into the USL,” Gustavo said. “Technical Directors, bringing in physical trainers from Europe; they’ve said they’re going to help us a lot more.”
All of which should help the game grow in Puerto Rico. While the Islanders have been a standard-bearer not just in U.S. Soccer but in the region as well, Sevilla PR and River Plate Puerto Rico, which will also be part of USL PRO’s Carribean Division next season, now have the ability to offer opportunities to play the game in a country where baseball and basketball are the more popular sports. A youth academy is being planned to offer the best young players a chance to develop their skills in a professional environment, as is a new stadium which could be ready in time for the 2011 season.
“We have very close ties with our club, and I think River does also,” Gustavo said. “I think it will help soccer in Puerto Rico progress a lot. It gives a whole new meaning to players if they know they could get into such a huge club in some of the biggest professional leagues, you can get there through us. I think that’s a great thing to have.”
But for Francisco Martinez-Cañavate, having ‘los rojiblancos’ become a major part of his life again is something special.
“I bet he would tell you it was his life-long dream,” Gustavo said. “After being here half of his life, more than 20-something years, it’s like having a piece of his hometown and his family, everything he knows, it’s like having that here.”