Guyana international Christopher Nurse (pictured) hopes to be on the field when Puerto Rico FC makes its NASL debut on July 2, 2016, at home against Indy Eleven. (Photo courtesy of Puerto Rico FC)
Puerto Rico FC will make its debut in the North American Soccer on Saturday, when it hosts Indy Eleven at the Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel. Off the field, the club is owned by NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony. On the field, however, former Puerto Rico Islanders standout and current Guyana international Christopher Nurse is expected to provide valuable leadership. The 32-year-old midfielder spoke with CONCACAF.com about the expectations of a new team that wants to ignite the island’s football passions
What are your thoughts about Puerto Rico FC and the hopes of this club?
It’s a very exciting time. With the economy and the way things are going in Puerto Rico, a professional football team competing in the NASL is very exciting for the island. It’s something everyone is looking forward to right now. With an owner of the magnitude of Carmelo Anthony, it gives the players some added motivation because it’s someone who is a mentor, someone who is really close to the franchise.
What do you think of Carmelo Anthony as an owner?
It’s no different than someone playing in the (English) Premier League. To play at that level consistently (in the NBA) says a lot about his character. He understands what the players need and what is required to be successful.
What is it like to be part of something brand-new, to be on the ground floor of a club?
I was here with the (Puerto Rico) Islanders before, so I’ve played on the island before. The NASL and soccer in America continues to develop, being at the start and watching the game grow, where more and more kids and clubs get involved, it’s fantastic. You’re part of something growing and it’s something revolutionary.
What has preseason training been like and how has it been different from other preseasons you’ve been a part of?
This has been a little bit longer because obviously it’s a new franchise, so the players came in a little early to get more adapted to the situation and we started training a little earlier. We had an extra three weeks of preseason than we normally would. It’s been good, though. The coaches have been in this situation before; they know what the league is about. The team is going to be very competitive and come Saturday night we’re going to be ready to put on hopefully a winning performance against Indy Eleven.
How excited are you to start the season and play for three points finally?
The one thing that stands out more when you talk about Puerto Rico FC, even though it’s a club team, when you travel to Canada or America, it almost feels like you’re representing a national team…you’re representing a country and the people. It brings a different level of intensity. When you go out, you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the people, too. You have to bring the same pride, passion, determination. You have to give the people of Puerto Rico something to be proud of. Hopefully we’ll be able to achieve that this year.
Your experience with Guyana makes you are the most capped player on the team. Do you see your role on the team as one of the leaders?
Yeah, definitely. This is my eighth season playing soccer in America. We have some kids who come in right from college and naturally just being around players who have been in the league before like myself, Oliver [Minatel], Cristiano [Dias], we have a little bit of experience and understand what is required at this level. Preparation is key and that’s what we’ve been able to lend in the preseason. How they look after themselves is going to be key to their success throughout the season.
Are there similarities that you’ve noticed between Puerto Rico FC and the Puerto Rico Islanders?
Only the fanbase. This is a completely different franchise, a new ownership and a new operation. The fanbase is there from the Islanders, but what’s going to be happening here will be more professional. Reaching the (CONCACAF) Champions League and winning the second-division title are some of the achievements that we’ll have to emulate with the new franchise.
What brought you to Puerto Rico FC?
If the franchise didn’t fold, I would have probably never left the Islanders. I was very comfortable and felt at home. I liked playing here for the people, I enjoy the culture. When I knew a franchise was coming back and they approached me, there was no question where I would be.
You spent half of your professional career in England and now the other half competing in CONCACAF. When you were growing up did you ever think you’d be so well traveled as a player?
Not really. When you’re growing up, especially growing up in England, you just want to play professionally. That’s your inspiration, you want to get that close to the top level you can in that country. For me, at 24 years old when I was back in England, if you weren’t in the Premier League yet it was very difficult to break into it. The opportunity came for me to continue my career in the second division in America and I grabbed it with both hands at Rochester and I haven’t looked back since. I had a lot of great experiences here, played against a lot of great teams and it’s helped me with my international career was well. We achieved some great things with the Guyana national team also. I would encourage more players to not feel afraid to travel to play football. It’s a great experience.
What do you think will be Puerto Rico FC’s identity?
Hopefully as a winner! I think that’s our main focus. There’s going to be a time to possess the ball, there’s going to be a time for playing direct. Our main focus is to be a winning team and have that winning mentality throughout the whole club from the top to bottom.