This coming Sunday a pair of Assumption men's soccer players will live out their ultimate dream of getting to represent their country, when Juan O'Neill and Nicholas Cardona take the field as a part of the Puerto Rico National Soccer Team on Sunday to play against Saint Kitts and Nevis on the island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean.
Both received word last week that they had been selected to play with the senior national team for the contest and it marks the first senior national team call-up for both players. O'Neill and Cardona have known each other for a number of years, having played against each other on the island as teenagers and then two years ago they were teammates on the under-20 national team. This summer they spent a great deal of time training together, to prepare for their Assumption careers and with the hope of making this a reality.
"I mean it's a dream come true because you've been practicing since you were a kid every day, hoping to go somewhere and play with the national team," said Cardona. O'Neill expressed similar emotions when talking about making the team earlier this week.
"It's an unreal experience getting to play with all those players you saw growing up and I just want to live that experience," he said.
The two were able to meet with their professors to make sure they didn't get behind in their academic work for the week-long trip home to train, prior to the Sunday match. In addition the honor of playing for the national team, the fact they get to do it so close to home and have family come and support them on this day makes it more memorable.
"It's the dream. I can't even express it. It's just something you work your whole life for, it's everything you could want," said O'Neill.
Both Cardona and O'Neill will be back in Worcester next week practicing with the Assumption men's soccer team, in hopes of helping the Hounds build on their early 2-0 record and secure a win in the team's conference opener on Sept. 11 against Bentley. In the meantime, Cardona just plans to soak up the experience of representing his country on the national level.
"I'm just going to use it to try and get better, and help Puerto Rico to step up their level of play," he said. Assumption head coach Chris Payne also sees it as something which can help them grow as athletes and individuals.
"It's a great opportunity and honor to be selected for your national team at any level, but for the senior team it becomes even more special," said Payne. "For our program and our school it is very exciting to have not one but two of our student-athletes selected to represent their nation on the world stage of international soccer, and they will be better for it when they return and represent Assumption College."