Kareem Riley of FIU men's soccer spent a portion of his summer training with the Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) national football team – which represents the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in international soccer.
Riley, a newly minted Panther who is part of FIU's 2020 recruiting class, spent nearly two months with the Soca Warriors – a nickname for the T&T Men's National Senior Team – after receiving the call-up in June from new head coach Terry Fenwick.
Born and raised on the island of Trinidad, Riley spends most of his time back home when he isn't playing collegiate soccer in South Florida.
The trip home typically allows Riley a chance to see close family and friends, but this time it also offered an unparalleled opportunity to develop amongst T&T's finest footballers.
From the months of June through August, Riley endured intense training sessions with the Soca Warriors at the Police Barracks & Diego Martin Sporting Complex in Trinidad.
"It was a good experience," said Riley. "It's something that always interested me, to represent my national team. To get into practice with the Senior Team and get to know the coaching staff and play high intensity practices was really good because a lot of guys don't have the opportunity to get high intensity practices during this time."
Amidst the global pandemic, Riley said he did individual workouts from home in Trinidad to stay in shape.
"At first there weren't any practices," said Riley. "They just started back up in June. Before that, the gyms and everything were closed. I was just trying to do steps and pushups. Everything from home."
It's uncommon, if rare, for a U.S. based collegiate player to receive consideration from the Soca Wariors.
"Usually the National Team doesn't invite college players because they know of the commitments [in the U.S.] and stuff," said Riley. "A lot of people were surprised that I was there training with them because they don't usually put an eye on college players."
FIU head coach Kyle Russell was excited and proud of Riley for his accomplishment.
"There aren't many Division I college soccer players who can say they trained with their country's national team," said Coach Russell. "This is an extraordinary individual achievement for Kareem, and an amazing mark for the FIU men's soccer program."
Riley said the opportunity to train with the T&T Senior Team gave him valuable insight into the mentality required to perform at such a high level.
"The intensity is higher," explained Riley. "You don't have to motivate anyone. Everyone is self-motivated. The talent is not really different, but the guys are wiser and just more driven I should say."
Training with a national squad from the twin islands is not a completely new experience for Riley, as the Panther was once a member of T&T's U-17, U-20, and U-23 National Teams.
Along the way, Riley competed in the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
"A lot of the guys I've played with before," said Riley. "It was good seeing some of the old guys, and also getting to play with a lot of new guys that I've known but never gotten to play against."
With national team experience now under his belt, Riley brings a mature presence to the FIU men's soccer program, and ambitions of finishing an already successful collegiate career on a strong note.
Previously, Riley spent three seasons with Florida Gulf Coast University men's soccer, where he was Team Captain and an All-ASUN selection.
Now, Riley joins FIU as a graduate transfer with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Legal Studies and one year of playing eligibility left.
Riley revealed that multiple schools were interested in his services, but in the end he decided to become a Panther, citing Coach Russell and Assistant Dannie Merida as a big influence.
"When Coach Kyle and Coach Dannie reached out to me, I felt a good connection," said Riley. "Coach Dannie came from Stony Brook and I got a lot of friends there that are Trinidadians also, and they told me that he's a great, great guy. Coach Kyle was so down to earth and humble. He was so approachable."
Riley said there is a lot to like about his new head coach in Russell.
"He has a lot of passion," said Riley. "I get that from him. He definitely wants to win and I'm like the same type of person. You can see he loves hard working people, and he's an honest guy."
Like many new international recruits, Riley was unable to convene with FIU coaches and teammates in-person over the summer, but he maintained communication through text and video chat.
"The team seems well connected," said Riley. "The guys were welcoming. Most of the guys on the team tried reaching out to me before they even saw me. I can sense there is a brotherhood."
Riley's focus upon joining FIU is fitting into a dynamic and chemistry that already exists, rather than trying to make a name for himself.
"I just want to improve the team. Encourage the younger guys. Make sure that I can get everyone around me to play better. And just bring that experience to the team."
Riley, who goes by the nickname "Enzo", possesses a selfless attitude and approach on the pitch.
"I want to win," stated Riley. "To me, scoring goals is good. But I'm not a huge – 'I gotta score, I gotta be the main-man' – type-of-guy. If everyone can score around me and I can just make the team better, I'm totally fine with that."
As the Soca Warriors continue training in Trinidad, Riley gets set to fly back to South Florida in order to join the Blue & Gold and prepare for the upcoming 2020 campaign.
"It's a new challenge, new team, and a new environment," said Riley. "Everything's new, so I'm just going to have to adapt. But I'm always willing to challenge myself to see how much better I can get."
The challenge for Riley ultimately centers around one goal in mind.
"It's just winning," reiterated Riley. "My main focus is just get the team into the [NCAA] tournament and try to reach as far as possible. Hopefully we can win it. That's my main goal."
With Riley and a slew of other talented Panthers, the FIU men's soccer program seems well equipped to chase that main goal in 2020.