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Cuban Futbol Players Defect in Miami

March 13, 2008

Ah American soccer. I mean football. Why can’t we just call it futbol, say it with a little accent, and differentiate? “Futbol” sounds sexy. SAH-ker sounds nasal.

That digression is for another day. I guess soccer/ futbol here is so good it makes Cubans want to defect:

They made their plans to defect back in Cuba, before their under-23 national soccer team left the island for Tampa to begin play in a qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics. Wednesday, hours after battling the U.S. team to a surprising 1-1 tie, five Cuban players were in Lake Worth, trying to figure out how to begin life as new immigrants.

Not even their families knew that team captain Yenier Bermudez, goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda, defender Erlys Garcia Baro, midfielder Yordany Alvarez and defender Loanni Prieto planned to defect. But after Tuesday night’s game, they bolted from a Tampa hotel, slipped into the waiting car of a mutual friend and headed east.

They bought a cellphone, contacted a lawyer, and celebrated their newfound freedom with a nice Cuban meal….

”I watched their game against the U.S. on TV, and I thought the Cuban team played very well,” [Luiz Muzzi, general manager of Miami FC, a United Soccer League team] said. “We were kind of scouting that game because anytime a Cuban team comes to the United States, there’s a chance someone might defect*.”…

The Cuban delegation was meeting Wednesday night with officials of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football to decide whether Cuba would remain in the tournament with a limited roster, or be forced to withdraw.

”Cuba has plans to keep playing in this tournament, and we don’t want to forfeit our next two matches,” coach Raul Gonzalez said. The top two teams in the eight-team tournament earn berths to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

This was not the first time Cuban soccer players defected in recent years.

Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado defected during the 2002 Gold Cup in Los Angeles. Maykel Galindo bolted from the team’s Seattle hotel during the 2005 Gold Cup, and last year, Lester More and Osvaldo Alonso defected during the Gold Cup in Houston.

Don’t they have security people after all these years of defections from baseball players?

* Anyone else find that quote kind of interesting? As in, it smells of collusion?

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Categories: futbol, Sports
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