Puerto Rico stresses pride, performance ahead of U.S. friendly

Joseph Marrero (pictured) looks to dribble during Puerto Rico's Caribbean Cup match against visiting Guyana on March 29, 2016, in Bayamon. (Photo courtesy of the Federación Puertorriqueña de Fútbol)

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico -- As it prepares for the resumption of Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup play next month, Puerto Rico will be tested by a team that expects to make a run at the Copa America Centenario title.

The Huracán Azul will host the United States in an international friendly at the Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel on Sunday in the first-ever meeting between the sides

It will be the biggest match on the island since Puerto Rico welcomed Spain in 2012, a game won by the then-World Cup champion, 2-1.

"The U.S. team is definitely matching the popular energy that the Spain game had," interim head coach Jack Stefanowski told CONCACAF.com.  "It's a great experience, a great opportunity, not only for myself, but for the players, even for the fans on the island, who have the opportunity to see one of the best teams in the world come and play in their stadium.  It's definitely a big game.  There is a lot of pride and passion involved around the game."

Stefanowski will use the encounter to sort out his line-up for two vital Caribbean Cup, second-round games against Group 1 rivals Grenada (June 1, away) and Antigua & Barbuda (June 4, home).  The five group winners will advance to the third round, as will the four best second-place finishers.

"We're going to focus on just playing together as a team for the whole 90 minutes," said Stefanowski.  "We're going to come up with a plan on what we need to do defensively and where we feel we can hurt the U.S.  The key for us is to just stay compact as possible, play together as a team, not get into an individual game."

Puerto Rico has never qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, progressing as far as the group stage of the CFU finals in 1993.  That’s a trend Stefanowski would like to change.

"We have been talking about making history," the 41-year-old finished.  "That's something we talked about in the first round.  The ultimate goal is the Gold Cup.  We have that target in mind.  If that happens great.  If it doesn't, we know we tried.  So there's a little bit of pride in that.  That's something we're focused on."