Back To The Island | Coach Adrian Whitbread Relishes Chance To Build Puerto Rico FC

Familiar with the island, Whitbread is excited to build a club with deep roots to the Puerto Rican community
Sep 2, 2015

The island of Puerto Rico was calling in more ways than one. The new team’s owner Carmelo Anthony couldn’t ignore his heritage, and recently announced coach Adrian Whitbread couldn’t ignore the memories he collected there from 2008-12 with the Islanders, first as an assistant under current Carolina RailHawks coach Colin Clarke and then calling the shots in 2012.

Those memories included league titles and deep runs in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“To be fair, I always felt I wanted to come back,” Whitbread told NASL.com. “I was never sure if it was going to happen, so I moved on and had been in different places coaching. Once I knew there was interest from Carmelo, I was very excited to come back to the island.”

For Anthony, Whitbread and technical director Neil Sillett, the task is clear: put a winning team together and connect to the island’s passionate and growing interest in the beautiful game.

Whitbread witnessed it first hand during his coaching tenure and again while visiting the island in June and taking in a national team match against Grenada.

“The passion has never changed,” he said. “It can’t just be about the team, it’s about the whole island – and everybody has a part to play in that.

“I think the one thing we started in 2011 and 2012 was going out into the community, not just on the footballing side, but to foundations – we had an unbelievable amount of requests that we fulfilled. That’s the part we need to play off the field.”

And Puerto Rico FC is expected to have a backbone that will feature local players as well.

“The first port of call we’ve spoken about is we have to make sure the support can relate to the team,” Whitbread said. “I think we have to start with players from the island as opposed from overseas – that’s a major thing here.

“We’ll look at the players that have been playing for the national team, the players that haven’t quite featured for the national team here that play in the local league here, but also in colleges and the professional players that are playing overseas.”

In making personnel decisions, Whitbread and Sillett have been given carte blanche by Anthony to paint the roster on a “blank canvas.”

“Carmelo trusts us, in full regard, to put together the team,” Whitbread said. “It’s been fantastic. We’ve had conversations, we’ve had meetings, we’ve sat down with him and picked up ideas he wants to bring to the table. I think from the soccer side, he’s leaving it to us.

“That’s massive when you get that backing from an owner.”

In constructing a roster, it would be easy to assume that Whitbread and Sillett, both natives of England, would bring in players from Britain. While they certainly have the connections, it’s not a foregone conclusion that there will be a British invasion on the Caribbean island.

 “That’s what we’ve had a long conversation about,” Whitbread said. “I don’t think we can turn around and say because we’re from England that we’re going to be bringing players across from England. We’ll look at it because there are players that are familiar with myself and Neil.

“We have to leave ourselves open at every opportunity that may come along for players. We’re looking, to be realistic, all over the world.”

Between Whitbread and Sillett, they are experienced, are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other, have a strong understanding of the players they are after, and plan to take in NASL games, which they have been doing.

Having experience in the league, Whitbread knows how tough the NASL can be and pointed to the results from this season as an example.

“We know it’s a very, very hard league, and it’s very competitive,” he said. “You can see the change from the Spring to the Fall Season and the teams that were near the bottom are now at the top.”

And while using players from the island and getting out in the community to connect with fans, Puerto Rico FC may have a long-lasting impact on the game’s growth, and potentially help shape the next generation of players through an academy.

“That’s going to take a bit of time, even though they have academies here,” Whitbread said. “I’m sure in time it’s something Carmelo will want to get deeply involved with, as he’s spoken about.”

Building a team from scratch is an exciting prospect for Whitbread in heading back to Puerto Rico. “That’s the unique situation about it,” he said. “In my career and other people that I know of, you don’t get this type of situation.” But there’s another aspect he’s most looking forward to.

 “I can’t wait to get on the training field,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything better than getting the guys on the training field and then the games themselves coming thick and fast in July.”

He added, “Come 2016, we’re looking to hit the ground running.”

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