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Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Association FootballDecember 11, 2011
MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico — There was little time left on the clock and the curtain was about to close on Puerto Rico’s qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014.The Boricuas were up 1-0 on St. Lucia, a team with only one point from its previous five Group D games.Nobody would have been surprised if both sides played out the remaining minutes at an injury-prevention pace.

Puerto Rico’s Joseph «Jackie» Marrero had other ideas.
In the 85th minute, the 18-year-old deftly beat two defenders and delivered a delightful cross that the exciting Hector «Pito» Ramos headed off the crossbar and just inside the goal-line.Puerto Rico 2, St. Luica 0…surely that was enough to send the home supporters out the exits happily.

There was time for more and, once again, Marrero had other ideas.

Unsatisfied with creating a goal in only his second-ever appearance for the national team, Marrero added extra icing to the cake two minutes later, finishing an effort that eluded St. Lucia goalkeeper Iran Cassius.Puerto Rico 3, St. Lucia 0…a young star shined brightly and the football hopes of a nation were invigorated.
«I am happy and I feel great for the opportunity,» said Marrero, who plays for Conquistadores FC in Guaynabo City.»After the goal, I wanted to celebrate with everybody on the field.»

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Marrero’s sentiment was sincere and his youthful exuberance palpable.He realized, however, that celebrations did not bring him to this moment and won’t carry him into the future.

«Now we have to continue working. The coach told me to be concentrated and to play with two touches of the ball. Touch and play were the simple instructions and we made it perfectly.»
Though the instructions of head coach Jeaustin Campos may have been simple, executing them effectively was complex.After ending World Cup qualifying on a four-game unbeaten run and a second-place finish in its second-round group, it has become clear that the Puerto Rican players — newcomers and veterans — are exceptional learners.

«It was a learning process and we were learning during the qualifying games,» said Campos, who was named to lead the national team in August.»We had patience and built a good defense with the most experienced players and added young talent to create a new era in the development of Puerto Rico football history.»

While Marrero’s performance against St. Lucia on Nov. 14 grabbed headlines, Ramos’ emergence as a genuine scoring threat may have the most impact on Puerto Rico’s long-term footballing prospects.

A natural striker, Ramos made five appearances in World Cup qualifying, scoring four goals; all of them in the two games against St. Lucia.

«To play with the Puerto Rican national team was a tremendous experience,» enthused the 21-year-old Ramos, who plays with Criollos in the Puerto Rican Football Federation’s National Football League.»It was also a great opportunity for the younger players.

«We have to encourage making room for the new players of Puerto Rico and give them the opportunity to have experience in international games.We have so much talent and the future looks promising.»

Puerto Rico’s only loss of qualifying came at home against Canada, 3-0, on Matchday Two.It showed significant improvement by the time the squads met again in Toronto on Matchday Four, coming away with a 0-0 draw.
That turnaround, in combination with other positive results, filled Campos with confidence.

«Now, at the end of the qualifiers we have very good order and a most solid team, which in every game ascended to a new level,» analyzed the former Costa Rican national team standout.»I am happy, but not satisfied.
«We need to continue working, especially in the physical aspects, and keep playing in every FIFA competition.»
There can be no doubt that Marrero and Ramos feel the same way.After all, they — along with their team mates — have learned quickly under Campos’ guidance.

Claudio Alvarez-Dunn contributed this article.



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Director Ejecutivo de Graduado del programa doctoral de Historia de las Américas de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Recinto Metropolitano. Lleva más de una década cubriendo el fútbol de Puerto Rico. Finalizó su disertación doctoral sobre el pasado presidente de la FPF, el Dr. Roberto Monroig. Hincha del Club Atlético de Madrid y de la Selección Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico. Puede contactarle via twitter o Instagram en @erjusinoa