🇧🇶 The international soccer super-fan living a dream with Bonaire
How a Spanish journalist joined the League C side's coaching staff PLUS: CNL notes
Getting CONCACAFed is a newsletter sharing stories and analysis from the Concacaf region.
I write and report on stories others overlook, whether they be happening in Bonaire, the United States or somewhere in between.
Pedro Rodriguez is not that different from you, an obsessive fan of international soccer, or me, a freelance journalist who enjoys digging into the smaller countries.
This month, however, the Murcia, Spain, native added a line to his resume that sets him apart from us. The soccer adventurer is working as an assistant coach on Bonaire manager Mauricio Tobon’s staff.
“In my wildest dreams I imagined myself as part of a national team, but I thought I’d be in the press department,” he told me Wednesday from Curacao, where the team is coming off a 2-2 draw with Sint Maarten in League C action in the Concacaf Nations League. “This opportunity came up, and, of course, I couldn’t turn it down.”
Rodriguez is part of a five-person staff that “does it all” from setting up cones and drawing up the drills for training sessions to scouting the opposition to washing the jerseys after the match.
He has coaching experience in the youth and amateur levels in Spain but is leaning on much of his knowledge of Caribbean soccer he has gleaned from watching matches online. He also has seen a number of games in person, taking advantage of Saint Martin and nearby Anguilla hosting a glut of Nations League games in qualification for the inaugural tournament.
That’s where Rodriguez first came into contact with Bonaire, befriending an assistant who also works in the federation. He continued his globetrotting coverage, writing and posting videos on small teams at the 2019 Asian Cup and other tournaments before the pandemic slowed down the global soccer landscape.
When Tabon, a Colombia-born manager who has been Bonaire for many years, took over the national team, that contact Rodriguez had made stayed on and thought about Rodriguez as a potential candidate to fill one of the spots on the staff.
“He knew about how crazy I am for Caribbean soccer, that I follow all the national teams and contacted me to be part of the Bonaire coaching staff,” Rodriguez said. “I’m still speechless.”
Rodriguez is extremely earnest about his role. He shared how moved he was being on the sideline and hearing the anthem of Bonaire played and when the prospect of Bonaire topping its League C group and making the Gold Cup qualification round was raised, I could hear the passion in his voice.
He also put being a part of the 4-1 victory over Turks and Caicos on June 3, the biggest victory in Bonaire’s modern history, on a high pedestal.
“It’s the best day of my life. Normally I’d be watching that game online at my house or traveling to see the game as just another spectator, but seeing it and being part of it, I still don’t believe it,” he said. “There are thousands and thousands of clubs in the world, but national teams? There are only 211 in FIFA and six Concacaf-only members and that’s it. It’s a dream.”
Bonaire may be living its own dream, with that goal of winning the group and earning both promotion to League B and a Gold Cup qualification place within reach. The win over TCI and Monday’s draw currently has Bonaire topping the group. Saturday’s trip to meet the U.S. Virgin Islands and a return fixture against the USVI in Curacao loom large as Bonaire looks to take its first-place spot into the final quartet of matches in March.
Rodriguez and his staff have plenty to work with.
Ayrton Cicilia, who like all but a few players on the roster is currently working while playing semi-professionally in Bonaire, had a hat trick in the first game and a pair of assists in the second. Jonathan Libania scored a goal each in both matches, and Quincy Hoeve, a 19-year-old forward in a top-flight Portuguese club’s youth system, scored against Sint Maarten.
Despite the fact that Rodriguez is able to scout the entire region from his house, he’s still surprised more Europeans working in soccer haven’t began scouting the Caribbean more aggressively.
He says Cicilia and other standouts could have an impact in some of the lower divisions in Spain, a level he knows well since he broadcasts matches in his home region.
“I don’t know how there aren’t more chance for these guys. Honestly, the ones in the Netherlands are usually there for their family but not because of soccer,” he said.
Rodriguez is a true believer and has not only been pleased at the level and the early success but also at how he’s been received."
“I imagined myself being a bit apart because while it’s true I got to know the players a bit through social media, I thought I’d be a bit apart because I’m a Spanish guy, coming from afar,” he said. “I’ve never lived in Bonaire, I don’t understand Bonaire’s idiosyncrasies, but the first day I realized that no, I’m one more in the group and that’s what has surprised me the most.
“I honestly feel Bonaire in my heart as my second country because being with the players, hearing the anthem, it’s my second home and I feel like another Bonairean.”
If Bonaire can achieve its goals of topping the Nations League group, he’ll certainly be there to celebrate, another person who played his part in a quest to put the island with a population of just over 20,000 on the map.
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Quickly taken from the CNL
Maybe the off-field stuff doesn’t ‘spill over’ as much as we think. After a chaotic couple days for Jamaica of travel struggles, demands general secretary Dalton Wint resign and rumors of the coach heading out the door, the Reggae Boyz got a great performance from Ravel Morrison to thump Suriname, 3-1.
If you’re just wanting to watch some chaos, I think Group C of League B may end up being your best bet. While Groups A and D also are crowded, they both have a team I expect to get minimal points and get relegated.
In this group, I thought the Bahamas might fulfill that role but a win over SVG and a close result against Trinidad and Tobago (though the actual performance showed dominance from the Soca Warriors) hint that this could get weird.
It would probably be good for drama and bad for ratings if one or more of the North American teams struggled upon entry, but I just don’t see it happening.
Canada has its off-field distractions, but Curacao’s brutal travel from home to Honduras to Vancouver won’t help a team that is talented but still lacks depth.
The U.S. got a gift when Grenada forced a draw with El Salvador, meaning the Stars and Stripes probably can slip up and still manage to return to the Final Four.
Mexico is not in good form, all the more reason it will have Suriname and Jamaica well-scouted. Some of the young players in the group also have plenty to prove, and my sense is they may come out more agressively than their more established counterparts.
I do think Panama might do enough to force its way into the Final Four, giving us two different teams if Canada also can take care of business. If that’s the price to pay for Costa Rica for getting into the World Cup, the Ticos will take it every time.
I think the same is somewhat true in League C where the teams yet to get into action may steamroll the rest of the group. Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia and Saint Kitts and Nevis are yet to get started, but I like all their chances to be at the Gold Cup qualifiers.
Hey, I’m in ESPN!
Well, something I wrote is. Check out my profile of John Herdman, with a focus on how working in women’s soccer before taking the men’s national team job makes him unique among managers headed to Qatar.
It’s great to have pieces, especially on Concacaf countries, run in major outlets like this. I get paid for my labor and more people discover the newsletter.