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Cuba’s soccer defectors hunt for respect in the United States

It is Cuba’s baseball players that usually attract the most attention, but a growing number of footballers are hoping to improve their skills in a new country

The moment was loaded with sentiment. For the first time in nearly a decade, the soccer-mad boy who followed his dream was performing before the father he left behind. Osvaldo Alonso, the combative Seattle Sounders midfielder, reunited with Osvaldo Sr, a one-time striker. Ozzie, the Cuban defector, Osvaldo Sr, the visitor and beneficiary of thawing US-Cuban relations. There was an embrace for the cameras, and a singalong with the Sounders faithful.

As a spectacle, it made for good public relations – perhaps even a propaganda coup. But behind the sentiment lies a very real story of woe for the aspiring Cuban soccer star, one bedevilled not only by politics but also stereotype. Legion are the tales of Cuba’s baseball prospects who scurried north, hook or by crook, in search of fame and fortune. The same journey for a soccer player is rare though. Unlike baseball stars, the lowly soccer player doesn’t chase the lure of untold millions. Nor do they tend to attract serious scrutiny. They are the pauper to the baseballer’s prince, an afterthought in a Cuba fixated on the ballpark. More often than not, they are the preserve of the minor leagues in the US, Alonso the exception rather than the rule.

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