SANTIAGO DE LOS CABALLEROS, Dominican Republic - Watching Atlantico FC compete on the international stage fills its president, Ruben Garcia, with pride.
The Puerta Plata-based club is one of the Liga Dominicana de Futbol's founding members, playing in each of the first three seasons and capturing the 2017 title. It is competing in the 2018 Caribbean Club Championship (CCC) with the hope of keeping the trophy in the Dominican Republic. Cibao FC won it last year on the strength of a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago's San Juan Jabloteh in the final.
"The truth is that it's very important," Garcia told CONCACAF.com when asked about the significance of Atlantico FC competing among the Caribbean's elite. "We come from the northern coast with about 300,000 people and we're motivated by pride that a club -- supposedly one of the smallest in the Dominican Republic -- has been able to reach this international tournament."
This is the second time that Atlantico has appeared in the CCC, also playing in the 2016 edition, when its only win in three games came against Guadeloupe's CS Moulien, 4-0.
Build-up for the 2018 event was intense, but worth it, according to Garcia.
"We've done six weeks of work that have been spectacular," he said. "I think that the club is in better shape. We are about 98 percent pleased with the play that we've had in this international cup and we've avoided having any complaint with clubs or fans. I think we are fulfilling the commitment."
Heading into Sunday's first-round, Group B finale against two-time champion Central FC, Atlantico (1W-1D-0L, 4 points) was sitting in second place on four points, trailing Portmore United on goal difference (+1 to +2).
Cibao FC's conquest of the 2017 CCC was yet another sign that Dominican football is rising rapidly on the CONCACAF landscape. That success is a reflection of the both the growth and potential of the sport in the Dominican Republic.
"There are so many factors to the growth of football in the Dominican Republic…the excellent work out in by the clubs, principally the work that has been done in these three spectacular years," finished Garcia. "The growth of football will be a wave that is difficult to stop."
Just like Atlantico FC.