Puerto Rico adds San Antonio's Manolo Sanchez for U.S. friendly
San Antonio FC midfielder Manolo Sanchez, a former player for the New York Red Bulls II, has been added to the Puerto Rico national team for an international exhibition against the United States this Sunday at Juan Ramon Loubriel stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Sanchez, who represented the island last year for a friendly against New York City FC, will also be with the team for two Caribbean Cup qualifying games against Grenada and Antigua-Barbuda in early June. The match will be played at the same stadium where Carmelo Anthony's Puerto Rico FC will begin play in July.
The United States national team will open its three-game, pre-Copa America Centenario slate of tuneup matches by playing for the first time in Puerto Rico one day after the U.S. swim team announced they would cancel a planned training camp in San Juan due to the threat of the Zika virus.
"It's a great honor to represent your country," Sanchez told his club's website. "It's always something very special. You're playing for something greater than yourself, and I am really excited and really looking forward to it."
Sanchez joins Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Jeremy Hall for the showcase friendly. Tampa native Hall played for the United States Under-17 and U18 teams and participated in the U17 Residency program in Bradenton, Florida, but made no senior appearances. His grandparents are from the island.
The 24-year-old Sanchez, who was born in Philadelphia and whose father is from the island of Vieques, said he is looking forward to Puerto Rico's two matches in the first week of June as well as part of the second round of Caribbean Cup qualifying.
The matches are the first step toward 2017 Gold Cup qualifying and Puerto Rico, coached by Jack Stefanowsk, will face Grenada on the road in St. George's, and an Antigua-Barbuda side that is likely to include the Charleston Battery's Quinton Griffith at home in Bayamon as the team looks to finish first in the three-team round robin to advance.
"International football is a whole different animal," he said. "It will give me more to draw back on when I come back to San Antonio, so I'm looking forward to it."
Sanchez has played in all seven matches this season for the United Soccer League club, scoring a goal just five minutes after he entered the game as a substitution in Saturday's 3-2 loss against Rio Grande Valley. Last year, he helped the New York Red Bulls II reach the USL Playoffs in their inaugural season.
"It's great for Manolo to get called up to represent his country especially in a game against the United States," said San Antonio coach Darren Powell. "We are all pleased for him and wish him the best of luck in the next couple of weeks with his national team."
Sanchez said he hopes to be an ambassador for the island.
"I consider myself just as much an American as I do Puerto Rican," Sanchez said. "Puerto Ricans love their sports and it will be a real privilege to represent them. We're playing a game with all this going on in Puerto Rico, so for me, I want to have fun and represent my country to the best of my ability."
The United States will be without striker Jozy Altidore due to a hamstring injury as well as a half-dozen foreign-based players for Sunday's friendly because of club commitments. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann plans to formally announce his team's 23-man Copa America roster on Saturday.