Bill Gaudette didn’t expect to be playing professional soccer in Puerto Rico. He was happy to be plying his trade in the capital of Ohio with the Columbus Crew, happy to be a Major League Soccer player.
But more than anything, Gaudette wanted games and that wasn’t going to happen once Crew coach Sigi Schmid anointed Will Hesmer the starting goalkeeper.
So Gaudette packed his cleats and hit the road. He trained with the New York Red Bulls in the preseason and was impressive, but came aboard shortly after the club had signed veteran Zach Thornton to back up Jon Conway. Through his mother Anne, who was born in Ireland, Gaudette obtained an Irish visa and explored options in Norway and Denmark.
But his agent, Ron Waxman, spoke with Colin Clarke, the former head coach of F.C. Dallas, and Gaudette would find a home at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
That is where the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues First Division play. It might be one step below MLS and some might consider it a demotion. But Gaudette is playing on a regular basis — and playing well — and he said he lives a few blocks from the beautiful beaches of San Juan, which is just a bit more scenic than Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s going fantastically,” Gaudette said by phone from his hotel room in Cary, N.C. “We have a good squad, very competitive. Living right near the beach, the warm water and warm weather are wonderful perks.”
Gaudette has played every minute of every game for the Islanders, which sit three points behind the Charleston Battery atop the 11-team league. The 26-year-old leads the league with seven wins, has a 1.00 goals against average and has four shutouts this year. Gaudette, who played in 17 games in three years in Columbus, said he is loving everything about Puerto Rico, including the fan support.
“It’s unbelievable to be honest,” Gaudette said. “They are one of the loudest support groups I’ve been around.”
The travel, though? That’s something Gaudette can’t get used to. The Islanders are currently in the midst of a six-match road trip that saw them play in Miami on the Fourth of July, Montreal less than 48 hours later, head to Portland July 10 and play in Charleston, S.C., two nights later.
“In MLS we were upset when we’d play on a Wednesday, Friday and then again on Wednesday,” Gaudette said. “Now we play on Friday, Sunday, Thursday...but it’s quality football and we have a great, strong team in Puerto Rico.”
As for what is next for Gaudette, he signed a one-year deal in Puerto Rico and, with Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan signing a deal with Aston Villa of the English Premier League this week, there are some job openings back in MLS.
But Gaudette is in no hurry to leave Puerto Rico.
“I’m just focusing on this season,” he said. “We’ll see what happens next year.”
Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@ti
©2008 Community News Group
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