By Matt Ream

 

In the opening game of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Costa Rica took on Cuba in the Dallas Cowboys’ massive stadium. The result was never really in question, as Costa Rica dominated play from the onset and was up 2-0 by the break. As I watched Costa Rica repeatedly dismantle the Cuban defense, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how many of the Cuban players would be missing before their June 9th clash against Mexico.

The Gold Cup in recent years has featured a number of defections by Cuban athletes. In 2002, two members of Cuba’s Gold Cup team left their hotel in Burbank, CA. In 2005, former Chivas USA leading goal scorer Maykel Galindo walked out of his Seattle hotel and never returned. In 2007, two players went missing in Houston, one of which was Osvaldo Alonso, who currently plies his trade in the midfield for the Seattle Sounders. 

 

These occurrences have not been limited to the Gold Cup. Seven players snuck away from Cuba’s U23 national team during a 2008 Olympic qualifying tournament, leaving their team with only ten players available for a match against Honduras. Several months later two more players left Cuba’s senior national team before a World Cup qualifying game against the United States. Other sports have had their losses as well, with baseball players and boxers seeking protection in the US. 

With this history in mind, I did a little research to brush up on US-Cuba relations. According to some sources, the United States maintains a policy that offers asylum to any Cuban national who wishes to defect. While this seems like a much better life for some of these players, the reality is that only two of those soccer players have made a career for themselves over here (and one hasn’t been good since 2007).

 

One interesting thing about these players is that once they have made the decision to defect, their international careers are over. Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba has not called any of those players up following defection, despite the location of the game. This has the effect of weakening Cuba’s squad each time something like this happens. I think a team featuring Galindo and Alonso would have been much more capable against Costa Rica in this opening game than what I saw this afternoon.

 

Although nothing has happened yet, expect to see a few of the current players on Cuba’s roster leave the team prior to their June 12th game against El Salvador. As Evan mentioned, if any of the players have a future MLS career in mind, they will likely want to play against Mexico to showcase their abilities a bit before defecting. I doubt they would wait until after the El Salvador game because they might not get an opportunity to sneak away. I’m going with five players, unless the AFC has heightened security detail, which may be possible.    

Questions for discussion:

  • Why does Cuba continue to bring their best players to these tournaments?
  • Haven’t they learned their lesson?
  • How many players will have left when it is all said and done?
  • What do you guys think?

 

Some thoughts from day one:

  1. Odelín Molina will not make his way onto an American professional team even if he defects. The Cuban keeper could have done far better on at least three of the five goals he let in, and made poor decisions on coming out when faced with one on ones.
  2. Costa Rica looked good against Cuba, but here is why they will not do well against stiffer opposition. Many of their players were too slow in their passing and decision making in the attacking third. Against Mexico and El Salvador, they will not have the luxury of time that Cuba gave them.
  3. El Salvador showed that they could put together a solid half on the defensive side of the ball, but exhibited a complete meltdown after letting in an unlucky goal that Efraín Juárez knew nothing about. I expect them to give Costa Rica a much tougher time, as the “Ticos” do not feature the attacking prowess that Mexico have.
  4. Mexico will lead the tournament in red cards. Early on in their game against El Salvador, Mexico earned some cheap yellow cards (although Javier Hernandez did not deserve one). I could see them making some stupid decisions against tougher opponents, which could cost them a place in the final.
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