Many athletes dream of playing the sport they love at the national level, and for Eastern Kentucky University senior midfielder Monica Rios, her dream became a reality.
“I’ve always written my goals on a mirror... one of my top goals was Puerto Rico’s national team,” she said.
To say that Rios was excited to find out she would be playing for her national team, is an understatement. Her coaches and teammates were supportive and happy for her to have the chance to travel to Bolivia and play with the team.
“Being able to represent my school and national team is pretty amazing,” Rios said.
She explained that she was very nervous to play with the team her first game but also excited at the same time.
“I was super proud when they did the national anthem,” Rios said.
She said that in that moment she was overwhelmed with emotion because she was proud to wear her colors and the flag from her country.
Rios plays as a midfielder on the Puerto Rican team and has had one cap and no goals. Puerto Rico was defeated by Bolivia, 2-1 on June 13.
“Having soccer here is different from having soccer in Puerto Rico,” she said.
She explained that there are different levels in which you have to learn and play from while playing for the national team.
In Puerto Rico, it is taken more seriously, there are people who come from different countries to play on the national team and have a passion for soccer just like her.
“I’m proud of Puerto Rico, but they [Puerto Rico] are on a whole other level,” she said.
Rios and her Puerto Rico teammates bonded and played well together.
“It clicked really well, they [Puerto Rico] are super proud,” Rios said.
She faces several challenges since playing for her national team. The pre-Olympic games are coming up and Rios is preparing as much as she can while also focusing on school and soccer at EKU.
“It’s hard when you have school here and you have your soccer family here and you don’t want to leave them,” she said.
This leaves her with a decision on when to leave in order to practice with the team to prepare for the upcoming games. She said that it makes it difficult for her because the other players who play on the national team are together for weeks and have the chance to grow together as a team while she just gets thrown into it. So, she must concentrate and pick up fast on what to do when she plays.
“My parents have always been my role models,” Rios said.
Her dad has been one of her main role models because he also played soccer and had the chance to either go to college or go pro. He has helped push her throughout this journey and told her to follow her dreams because he didn’t get the chance. His motivation has helped her keep pushing through and succeeding in her own dreams of playing for the national team.
She explained that she was not sure yet on what she wants to do when she graduates from EKU. She has the options of pursuing nursing, coaching, or even continuing her soccer career.
For now, she said, “I have so many passions, I just need to see which one I’m most passionate about.”
The EKU soccer team will be back in action at home on Oct. 4 against Austin Peay at 4 p.m.