Throughout the NBA offseason VICE Sports and Carmelo Anthony are exploring street sport cultures around the world. In our premiere episode, Melo travels to Cuba to explore the rise of soccer in a nation synonymous with baseball, ride a 1950s drop top in the rain, and grab some fresh rolled Cuban cigars along the way.
If you aren’t already aware Carmelo Anthony purchased a NASL team team in Puerto Rico so his interest in soccer is readily apparent. He also traveled to Cuba for a New York Cosmo’s game against the Cuban national team (the first time an American club team has set foot in Cuba in a very long time) in the run-up to his purchase of the Puerto Rico NASL team. Therefore, it is nice to know that he is coming into this short documentary with an appreciation for soccer. What is even more impressive is the fact that soccer is growing so fast in Cuba. It has long been a country dominated by baseball so the fact that soccer is growing speaks volumes to the appeal of the sport. Only time will tell if this is a passing fad. If it isn’t though the USMNT will have some more competition to contend with.
From Pro Soccer Talk:
With their coach Raul Gonzalez and six players still waiting to clear visa issues, the Cubans were already down to 17 players ahead of their Gold Cup opener against Mexico in Chicago on Thursday.Now, another player has gone missing in Chicago as it is believed he has wondered away from their camp and has defected.
Assistant coach Walter Benitez has been left to coach the team but he would not name the player who has left.“Now we have only 16 players because one has gone absent,” Benitez said. “We don’t know where he is. The lad who went away was a first-choice player but we’ll manage. We came to play a tournament and we’re going to play it.”
Members of Cuba’s national teams in baseball, soccer and other sports have a long history of defecting while on U.S. soil for competitions. Looking around the soccer world, the Seattle Sounders Designated Player Osvaldo Alonso defected back in 2007, while former Real Salt Lake midfielder Yordany Alvarez did the same in 2008 when he and six other members of the U-23 Cuban national team defected during an Olympic qualifying tournament in Miami.
During various tournaments in the U.S. over the years, the total number of Cuban players now believed believed to have defected is 11. Recently the New York Cosmos became the first professional soccer team from the U.S. to play in Cuba in over 35 years after strict sanctions — which were originally imposed back in 1961 — on Americans traveling to the Caribbean island were lifted.
When I read the article headline I thought to myself, “Again?” and I thought maybe I was misremembering how many times I have read about a Cuban player defecting while in the United States. However, once I got towards the end of the article and realized it has happened 11 times I am sure I remembered correctly. I know Cuba isn’t the best place to live but I was under the impression it was getting better. However, it can’t be that much better if a first team player would willingly desert the team before their first match and live as an illegal immigrant in a strange country rather than continue to live as a professional soccer player in Cuba. Maybe he should he found his way to Micronesia and been a professional soccer player/coconut farmer. Probably an easier life than being an illegal immigrant in the US or a professional soccer player in Cuba.