GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – One of the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship’s primary objectives is to expose players to international football at a younger age, so as not to be disadvantaged as they progress in the sport.
Nick Muriel, the US Virgin Islands goalkeeper, is fully aware of disadvantages because he is considered legally blind with a short-sighted condition.
Although his side had lost its first three matches heading into Sunday’s encounter against Saint Maarten, Muriel’s fighting spirit and acrobatic saves have made the opposition work for their wins.
As far as Muriel is concerned, the challenges posed by his eyesight are no reason to feel like any less a player.
“I see it as more incentive,” he said. “If I go up against a goalkeeper who is not legally blind, of course they might think they have an advantage or an outfield player might think he can put it right next to me and I won’t see it. I hate to burst their bubble, but I do see it.
“I know I have not played my best in this tournament, but it’s not because of being legally blind. That doesn’t bring me down.”
His mother, Pamela Colon, paid her own way for the trip to Cayman, as she usually does.
“I’m extremely proud of Nick first as a person and then as a soccer player,” she said. “My only concern now that he is older and more mature was when he started he didn’t want to wear the safety goggles, which have his prescription lenses in them. It was a battle to get him to wear them.
“He cannot play with regular glasses. If he got hit he could have a very bad eye injury. Other than that, I had no reservations as long as he was wearing the goggles. Now, of course, he does all the time.”
Since the age of three, Muriel has immersed himself in football in St. Croix.
“I love it,” he enthused. “It’s a thinking man’s game, you have to be smart and think of the possibilities and outcomes.
“What you can do with your feet, with the ball, is amazing.”
Muriel wasn’t always a standout goalkeeper. As a youngster, he was scoring rather than preventing goals.
“I used to be a striker, a very good one, but my team needed a goalkeeper and as I was the youngest on the team, I didn’t really have a say,” the 15-year-old commented. “That was six years ago and I never left.”
In a loss to the Cayman Islands, Muriel had the satisfaction of saving a penalty kick from Leighton Thomas Jr., one of the tournament’s top performers.
Thomas put it to his right and Muriel saved it superbly.
“In a real competitive game I’ve never gone the wrong way in a penalty,” said the goalkeeper. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Muriel has that stop and much more from which to take pride. He has big dreams and hopes one day to play professionally in the Italy.
“To play for any professional team I would love it, but AC Milan is my dream team.”
Based on Muriel’s talent and determination, you can be certain that he’ll keep that goal in sight.