Eric Reyes makes international debut with team Puerto Rico

When sophomore goalkeeper Eric Reyes answered his phone one Saturday morning while on the road with the FIU men’s soccer team, the 19-year-old wouldn’t have guessed in his wildest dreams what the next 72 hours had in store for him. He was about to embark on a journey that would culminate with the ultimate goal of any young soccer player: playing for his country’s national team.

Team Puerto Rico before the start of the game against team Canada. Reyes is in the back row, right corner.

“The manager [of the Puerto Rican National Team] called and said their keeper was injured and they needed me to fly to Puerto Rico Monday morning and play in a World Cup Qualifying match Tuesday night against Canada,” Reyes said. “At this point, I couldn’t be more excited for this great opportunity.”

A week earlier, he received a similar call asking him to fly down to Puerto Rico and join the National Team camp, but that would have meant missing matches against Penn State and Ohio State.

“They wanted me to come into camp and train with the team, but I told them I couldn’t do that because my first priority was to FIU and my teammates and I couldn’t let them down,” Reyes said. “After I got the call a few days later asking me to start between the pipes, I spoke with [Head] Coach Munga [Eketebi] and my teammates and decided to fly down and play since I wouldn’t be missing any FIU matches.”

First thing Monday morning, Reyes was on a flight to Bayamón, Puerto Rico, to join his countrymen for one of the most important matches of his life.

“For a player in any sport to represent their country is the ultimate,” Eketebi said. “Playing in a World Cup qualifier, you can’t ask for more than that. Being on a national team while you’re still in college is definitely a major accomplishment and extremely rewarding.”

Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, Reyes was thrown into the fire, furiously trying to prepare for team Canada. After heading straight to the stadium from the airport, Reyes participated in goalkeeper sessions, film study and prepared himself for a match at the highest level. While most players would be anxious or maybe even a little nervous, the only thing on his mind was trying to learn the names of his teammates with whom he would share the pitch in less than 24 hours.

“I’d been there for almost a whole day preparing, and I didn’t know the names of my teammates,” Reyes said. “So I asked my goalkeepers coach to help me learn our starters, and I didn’t do anything else until I knew all I could about my teammates.”

After what Reyes said seemed like an eternity, gameday finally arrived. As he walked through the tunnel to the field, it all began to hit him: He was about to make his international debut in a World Cup qualifying match for his home country on his home soil.

The FIU team is 2-2-2 so far this season with Reyes in the net. They next face North Florida on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.

“It was just surreal for me. Even during pregame warm-ups, there were thousands of people out there with horns and drums going crazy,” Reyes said. “The most memorable thing for me at that stage [was] as a kid, I always dreamed of coming out to that international walk-out song. I can recall standing in the tunnel and seeing the flag boys walk out and hearing the song play and it just hit me. Every hair on my body stood up. I took it all in for a second, but after that, it was go time.”

In the end, Puerto Rico fell 3-0 to Canada. Although the outcome wasn’t in his favor, Reyes wouldn’t trade thatexperience for anything.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted but overall, it was an incredible experience to play for my country in a World Cup qualifying match against a strong North American team in Canada,” Reyes said. “My coaches preached to me that the most important thing is to have fun out there. No matter if you win or lose, make sure you go out there and have fun and smile because it’s going to go by in 90 minutes and you’ll never have your debut back. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for anything more…well, maybe I could have asked for a win.”

The next home game for FIU men’s soccer is Friday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. Current students get in free with their FIU OneCard. For ticket information, call the FIU Ticket Office at 305-FIU-GAME or log Fans can follow @FIUMensSoccer on Twitter for home match updates.

— Mathew Ratner