WINDSOR TERRACE — The Olympics are a “once in a lifetime experience” for Bushwick native Juan Carlos “J.C.” Obregón Jr., who is soaking in every minute of his journey to Japan.
The 23-year-old is a member of the Honduras men’s soccer team, one of the squads that will compete in the Games after the Central American nation advanced to its fourth straight Olympics this spring.
Obregón scored the opening goal in Honduras’ 2-1 victory against the United States during the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football) Olympics qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Obregón’s journey to the Olympics can be traced back to when he started playing soccer at the age of four. He later played for the high-level youth club, Met Oval Academy, and attended Christ the King High School in Middle Village, where he was a forward on the school’s team.
“It was always my dream to be a professional soccer player — ever since I first started kicking the ball and joined my first team when I was four,” Obregón said in June from his training site in Hartford, Conn. “I remember watching soccer on TV with my dad and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”
After graduating from Christ the King in 2015, Obregón attended Siena College, a Franciscan school in upstate New York, where he majored in biology and played Division I soccer for two years. The midfielder left after his sophomore year when the National Autonomous Federation of Football of Honduras asked if he would like to compete professionally on its Under-20 men’s national team.
Participating in that league opened doors for Obregón in 2017, when he signed with and played for Club Necaxa in Liga MX, for the next 18 months. He then played for the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, a United Soccer League affiliate of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo FC, for the next two seasons.
Last March, Obregón was in Honduras getting ready to compete in qualifiers for the Olympics when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Qualifiers were canceled indefinitely and, on March 24, the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the Summer Games to the following year.
“At first, it was pretty frustrating, mentally, but my faith played a huge part,” Obregón said. “I know God’s timing is perfect and I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I had to prepare myself and stay in the best shape possible,” he continued, “controlling the things that I could control — like the way I trained every day — and accepting the things that I couldn’t control.”
This past January, Obregón received a call to compete in the rescheduled Olympics qualifiers with Honduras’ Under-23 men’s national team. “You grow up watching the Olympics and athletes like [23-time gold medalist and U.S. swimmer] Michael Phelps, [eight-time gold medalist and Jamaican sprinter] Usain Bolt, and [Brazilian soccer player who led Brazil to its first Olympic soccer title at Rio 2016] Neymar — some of the top athletes in the world,” Obregón said.
“To be able to put yourself in that category is a dream come true and very humbling,” he added.
Obregón acknowledged it was tough playing against his home country for Olympic contention.
“I remember having a lot of mixed emotions, having been born and raised in the United States, but also having a strong cultural background with Honduras,” Obregón said of the semifinals game between the United States and Honduras in late March. “Hearing both national anthems right before the game was a bit emotional.”
“But, as a professional athlete, you have to learn how to bottle up those emotions to be able to perform at the peak level,” he continued. “Thank God, I was able to keep those emotions and nerves under control.”
Once Honduras clinched a spot for Tokyo, Obregón returned to the States and signed with Hartford Athletic, in April, as a forward.
Obregón will attend the Opening Ceremony with his fellow teammates on July 23 inside the Olympic Stadium. Men’s and women’s soccer games will be held at the same venue until August 7. The women’s medal events take place on August 5 and the men’s medal events take place on August 6 and 7.