Thursday, March 13, 2008

Olympic Qualifying: Seven Cuban players defect

In the last 24-hours, seven Cuban U-23 players have defected. The seven include goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda, defenders Erlys Garcia Baro, Yendry Diaz, Eder Roldan and Yenier Bermudez and midfielders Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto.

Cuba only brought 18 players with them to the tournament so all they have left is 11. But it is worse then it seems as Roberto Linares, who is one of those 11, received a red card on Tuesday night so he is not available for today's game against Honduras. That means the team will have to play the whole match with just 10 players.

This has become a routine occurrence whenever Cuban teams come to America to play tournaments. Divorcing the politics from this, it is a shame as their U-23 team looked strong against the US and probably could have made it out of the group. Now they will be lucky to get even one more point.

But you can never really take the politics out of things, so to the new Americans, welcome home. As Yenier Bermudez put it, "Of course, my heart will be in Cuba with my family, but I want to have the freedom to better my life, to play professional soccer, to be the best I can be, and for that we had to make this sacrifice."

And it might not take long for this to happen as USL side Miami FC has already said they plan on hosting a tryout for the seven next week. I think Miami's GM Luiz Muzzi summed up what a number of US teams are think right now, "I watched their game against the U.S. on TV, and I thought the Cuban team played very well ... We were kind of scouting that game because anytime a Cuban team comes to the United States, there's a chance someone might defect."

After his performance on Tuesday, goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda is probably on the short list of a number of MLS squads.

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