May 21, 2016
AN OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME
Long-time NY/NJ resident Jack Stefanowski will coach Puerto Rico vs. USA Sunday
By Michael Lewis
Returning home after he and his family survived last year's devastating earthquake in Nepal, Jack Stefanowski sought out his latest challenge as assistant coach of Puerto Rico FC.
Never did he dream he would be in the position he is in today.
Stefanowski will coach the Puerto Rico national team against the United States in an international friendly in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The New York University graduate is directing El Huracán Azul on an interim basis.
The 41-year-old has some strong personal and professional ties to the New York area. Born in Poland, Stefanowski grew up in Middle Village in Queens, attended Archbishop Molloy High School and lived in Hicksville, N.Y. and Jersey City, N.J. He also was the head coach at Briarcliffe College and assistant-goalkeeper coach at Stony Brook University, Saint Peter's College and New York University. He also played for the Long Island Rough Riders and Brooklyn Knights.
In a telephone interview from Bayamon earlier this week, Stefanowski said his national team experience has been “been a lot of work. The fact that I enjoy it makes it easier. The technical staff has been great, the group that we put together with the players coming in. Apart from the games, it's just a great all-around environment."
There has been much excitement in the island's soccer circles the past few days as this will be the biggest match since 2010 World Cup champion Spain played there and recorded a 2-1 victory in 2012. Spain
"The U.S. team is definitely matching the popular energy that the Spain game had," Stefanowski said.
"It's a great experience, a great opportunity, not only for myself, but for the players, even for the fans on the island, who have the opportunity to see one of the best teams in the world come and play in their stadium," he added. "So it's definitely a big game. There is a lot of pride and passion involved around the game."
Stefanowski will use the friendly at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel to sort out his lineup for two important Caribbean Cup games. The Caribbean side visits Grenada June 1 and hosts Antigua and Barbuda three days later. The five group winners will reach the third round, as will the four best runner-up sides.
"We're going to focus on just playing together as a team for the whole 90 minutes," he said. "We're going to come up with a plan on what we need to do defensively and where we feel we can hurt the U.S. The key for us is to just stay compact as possible, play together as a team, not get into an individual game."
Puerto Rico has never reached the third round of the competition.
"We have been talking about making history," Stefanowski said. "That's something we talked about in the first round. The ultimate goal ... want to get into the [CONCACAF] Gold Cup. We have that target in mind. If that happens great, if it doesn't, we know we tried. So there's a little bit of pride in that. That's something we're focused on."
Puerto Rico's success in the second round could determine whether Stefanowski will have a future as the national team coach. He has enough on his plate with Puerto Rico FC, which will make its debut in the North American Soccer League fall season.
"My original commitment is to Puerto Rico FC," he said. "That's the reason why I came down to Puerto Rico and I'm going to honor that commitment. ... It's something maybe further down the road is a possibility. we'll see how things go after June 4. Then we'll evaluate."