You had to see it to believe — the scoreboard at Estadio Olimpico — in 1992 (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
The stadium was but 18-years-old, but it certainly had seen better days.
The field was parched, hard and uneven, the stands were stone bleachers and the scoreboard, which looked like it had caught on fire at least once, didn’t work.
That was Estadio Olimpico almost 27 years ago when the Dominican Republic hosted Puerto Rico in the very first World Cup qualifying match of the 1994 competition.
The Red Bulls meet Atletico Pantoja in the first leg of a Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 match at the venues, renamed Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez Wednesday night.
Hopefully, they will have improved the stadium conditions since when those two national teams played March 21, 1992.
Back then, Security was, well, there was little security.
After referee Lancelotte Livingston of Jamaica blew the final whistle of the qualifying match, many of the 5,000 spectators spilled onto the field and talked with the players. There were no incidents.
Phones in the adjacent soccer federation headquarters. There were no press credentials as the media was allowed to mill around the benches – I should know because I was there. Imagine that happening at a U.S. or European qualifier.
Then there were no locker room facilities or lack thereof. Arnie Ramirez, then the Long Island University men’s head soccer coach who was the special technical adviser to the Puerto Rican team, moved his squad from its original locker room because of the stench of backed-up toilets. He found a delivery area with bars that separated the area from the outside, underneath the stands. That new room had benches and tables, but no lockers.
The Puerto Rican quietly prepared while a worker occasionally delivered bananas to a storage room.
So, instead of using a blackboard to diagram last-minute strategy and assignments, Ramirez used water bottles, plastic cups and oranges to get his point across.
The message got through to his troops.
Puerto Rico won, 2-1.
Fans were able to go onto the Estadio Olimpico field after the World Cup qualifying match in 1992.
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Having played in the Concacaf Champions League for the past few years, the Red Bulls realized that playing in a Central American or Caribbean stadium could present some surprises.
When head coach Chris Armas spoke to the media via a conference call Tuesday afternoon, he said the team was going to visit the stadium — now called Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez.
“We’ve seen video of the stadium,” Armas said. “We’ve seen them playing in that stadium. The field looks fairly good, but in that we know it’s not going to be Red Bull Arena. Away from home, it’s never even, the ball never really settles down. The grass will probably be longer. The dimensions, we’ll find that out in a little while. We know it will not be perfect. So, we’ve been training for that. we’ve been training in difficulty. We’ve been trying to mimic some of what we expect that way. It will be far from perfect, but we’ll be ready.”