OPENING SOME DOORS

Cuban soccer federation president Hernandez hopes Cosmos match will help U.S.-Cuba relations

Luis Hernandez: “The Cosmos are one of the most well-known teams worldwide. It’s a prestige to welcome them to Cuba. It’s going to help the development of the Cuban national team.” Photo by Michael Lewis

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

PHILADELPHIA — Football Association of Cuba president Luis Hernandez hopes his national team’s international friendly against the Cosmos in June will open the door to more shared sports competitions between the two countries.

On Dec. 17, President Obama announced that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, helping to open the door for the game. No U.S. professional team has played in Cuba in 16 years, since the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national baseball team played a home-and-home series.

Hernandez cited what transpired in 1978, when the Chicago Sting of the original incarnation of the North American Soccer League played a friendly in the Caribbean country.

“Months later the Cuban national team came to the United States,” he said after announcement of the CONCACAF Gold Cup schedule at Lincoln Financial Field Thursday morning. “So I hope that the same will happen.”

Hernandez, a former member of the Cuban national team who played on the squad that then played defending champion Poland to a scoreless draw in the opening game of the 1976 Summer Olympics, retired a year later. He was a spectator of the match in Havana, which the Cubans prevailed, 2-0.

“It was a heartfelt moment,” he said. “It was exciting to see it.”

In the return match in Chicago, the teams played to a 1-1 draw.

The Cosmos are scheduled to play in Cuba on June 2, which is during the break between the spring and fall seasons in the NASL.

It was not immediately known whether Cuba will play the Cosmos in a return match in the states. The Cosmos have called a press conference for Monday in which head coach Giovanni Savarese and players Raul and Marcos Senna will talk about the match, along with Cuba national coach Walter Benitez.

The encounter works out well for the Cubans, who will use the match to prepare for a home-and-home series in the second round of World Cup qualifying against the winner of the Curacao-Montserrat series (March 27 and 31) in June.

“The Cosmos are one of the most well-known teams worldwide,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “It’s a prestige to welcome them to Cuba. It’s going to help the development of the Cuban national team.”

Hernandez added that the Cosmos match is “going to help a lot. The fact that the Cosmos are going to play against Cuba’s national team. Usually before going into qualifying Cuba tries to look for a good rival, for a good opponent and we certainly know we’re going to find that in the Cosmos.”

So, not surprisingly, the game has made headlines in Cuba as well as in the USA.

“Yes it’s been big [for] soccer,” he said. “The soccer family in Cuba, they know about it. And of course now [are] talking about the fact now that Cuba and America are trying to fix their relationship it does impact.”

The Cubans, who have been a regular participant in the Gold Cup, were placed in Group C with Mexico, Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago. They meet Mexico in Chicago on July 9, T&T in Phoenix, Ariz. on July 12 and Guatemala in Charlotte, N.C. July 15.

“Anywhere they put the team, the group, it’s going to be a challenge,” Hernandez said. “Mexico will be the toughest rival, but we’re ready to take on the task.”

Hernandez called the Cubans “a developing team.”

“There are veteran players. There are young players,” he said. “The Cuban national team is getting ready for qualifying for the World Cup matches and for the Gold Cup. It’s about preparation.”

And about making some history in the process as well.

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