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Irizarry to suit up for Puerto Rico national team
GAC grad to play in World Cup qualifier Wednesday

As the Ohio State men's soccer team made its run to the NCAA finals last fall, its players received plenty of exposure.

Somewhere along the way, the national team coaches from Puerto Rico liked what they saw in Buckeye junior Danny Irizarry. Noting the Greater Atlanta Christian grad's heritage - his father's parents are Puerto Rican - they began pursuing him.

Now a few months later, Irizarry is set to debut with the Puerto Rican National Team for its 2010 World Cup qualifying match on Wednesday against the Dominican Republic. By suiting up for Puerto Rico he's ineligible to play for the United States in the future, but this situation was too good to pass up.

"When I talked to (Puerto Rico's coach), I really didn't think it would happen, but now that it's become real, it's become an exciting situation," said Irizarry, a second-team All-Big Ten selection at midfielder last season. "It's definitely one of the best opportunities soccer-wise that I've ever had. I'm going to try and take full advantage of it."

Irizarry reported to training in Puerto Rico on Saturday, four days before the qualifying match at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon. It's his fourth visit to his grandparents' home country after three earlier visits to see family.

Despite those trips, he knows communication may be a challenge in training this week.

"(My Spanish is) OK, I took a little bit in high school and a little bit in college," Irizarry said. "It's just OK."

Irizarry isn't sure how much he will play in this qualifying match since he's a new addition to the team, but he's hoping to impress the coaches enough in training for future invitations. If the team wins, it faces Honduras in the next World Cup qualifying game.

Puerto Rico has never qualified for a World Cup and has struggled to field a competitive team in recent years. But its latest team has fared well, sweeping friendly matches from Bermuda earlier this year and tying Trinidad and Tobago, a 2006 World Cup team, last month.

It still has a long way to go, ranking 196th in the FIFA World Rankings and only 30th in its own zone, CONCACAF.

"(Puerto Rico's) never been worldly ranked high and they're not even ranked high in CONCACAF," Irizarry said. "But you never know. In World Cup qualifying, we could surprise some people."

Wednesday's 8 p.m. match will be aired on GOLTV, which is available on DirecTV, the Dish Network and some cable systems.