For Christian Barreiro’s first four years on Penn’s campus, Quakers soccer was the driving force in his life.
This semester, however, has taken on a different tone.
After taking a year of absence to play professionally for the North American Soccer League’s Puerto Rico Islanders, Barreiro returned to campus this January to receive the final 5.5 credits that he needs to earn his Wharton degree.
“At the forefront of my focus right now is getting my degree,” Barreiro said. “And then we’ll see what plays off from there.”
Barreiro picked up plenty of accolades during his college career, twice being named first team All-Ivy. The attacking midfielder/striker currently ranks fifth on Penn’s all-time points list with 58, and he had numerous performances that garnered him plenty of attention from professional scouts.
After a stellar senior year, Barreiro signed with an agent in hopes of latching on with a pro team. He earned an invite to the Major League Soccer Combine, where he performed well enough to be drafted by the New York Red Bulls in the third round of the supplemental draft.
Barreiro took his once-in-a-lifetime chance, put his Wharton degree on hold and took a leave of absence to train with New York. Although the Red Bulls did not offer him a contract, plenty of other teams were interested in the powerhouse.
During the summer transfer window — about halfway through the season — Barreiro signed with the Puerto Rico Islanders, who play one division below the MLS.
Barreiro lived right on the beach in Bayamon with two of his teammates, but his first professional season wasn’t all sunshine, as he only received 184 minutes of playing time by year’s end.
“I thought [my first season] went pretty well,” Barreiro said. “There is a lot of adversity because you are coming in in the middle of the season, some of the guys have already been together for a lot of years, and I’m the second or third youngest guy on the team.”
Despite receiving limited playing time in his first go-round, Barreiro isn’t about to give up his dreams of glory on the pitch. And this semester, the perfect opportunity arose to keep playing soccer while also preparing for life after the game by finishing what he started at Penn.
For the upcoming year, the NASL will split its season into two different sessions, one in the spring and one in the fall. The Islanders will not play in the first session this year because they are still waiting to receive funding from the Puerto Rican government, but will return to the league for the fall session, when Barreiro believes he will be able to join back up with the team.
“It was an opportune time for me to finish my degree because I only have 5.5 [credits] left,” Barreiro said. “I mean, you can’t complain about getting a Penn degree. And then continue to train and stay fit, and hope to get back with the team in that second transfer window.”
Being back on campus and not playing for the varsity team won’t be easy for Barreiro. While most other professional players will be training with their teams throughout the spring, he will have to work that much harder to keep up with the high level of play that he experienced last year.
“You can only do so much on your own,” Barreiro said. “I’ve been training really hard on my own, but it only takes you so far. The game is a team sport.”
However, Barreiro is quick to focus on the positives of returning to school for another semester, which few people get the chance to do.
“I’m basically living my second semester [of] senior year over again,” Barreiro said. “I was here off and on second semester last year … it’s good to be back.”
At the moment, Barreiro’s dream of playing in the MLS may still be only that — a dream — but in the meantime, having an Ivy League degree and playing professional soccer in Puerto Rico isn’t a bad alternative.