Cosmos to lead return to post-embargo Cuba

 havana-live-newyorkcosmosgettyHAVANA, 9 Mar.  The New York Cosmos will play the Cuban national team in June in Havana, becoming the first American professional team to play on the island in 16 years and the first since the United States government announced that it would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba in December.

Cosmos officials would not comment on the game, which was announced erroneously this weekend on several Cuban websites as scheduled for April 2.
In fact, the game will be played on June 2 and will feature a full-strength Cuban national team that will be preparing for July’s Concacaf Gold Cup, the biennial regional championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

A formal announcement of the match is expected soon, perhaps as early as this week. The game will take place during a break in the Cosmos’ regular schedule in the North American Soccer League, the second tier of American men’s pro soccer.

The Cosmos are a particularly attractive first opponent for Cuba because of their strong global brand and because they have the former Spain World Cup stars Raúl and Marcos Senna as well as several players from Central and South America.
While Cuba’s main sporting preoccupation is baseball, it now has a serious rival in soccer. The United States national team regularly meets Cuba’s national team in international matches and won by 4-1 in the last meeting, in Sandy, Utah, during the 2013 Gold Cup.

The teams are hardly rivals, however; the Americans have won all seven games between the teams since 1998, including a World Cup qualifier in 2008, but before that they had not met in men’s soccer since 1949.
American pro teams were once regular visitors to Cuba. The Brooklyn Dodgers held spring training there in the late 1940s, and the Yankees did the same in the ’50s. The Baltimore Orioles were the last American pro team to play in Cuba, beating the host country’s national team, 3-2, in an exhibition game in Havana in March 1999. The Orioles lost a return game in Baltimore six weeks later.

The Class AAA Rochester Red Wings were the last team from the United States to play in Cuba before the embargo began in 1960. At the time, the International League, of which the Red Wings were a member, had a team in Cuba, the Havana Sugar Kings.
But soon after the Red Wings’ final visit, in June 1960, the International League president ordered the Havana team to move to Jersey City because, he said at the time, the safety of visiting baseball personnel “is or might be endangered.”