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A Cuban's Story

Until the immigration process is completed, Reinier Alcantara's only proof of identity is a lamented slip of paper that, like most things from Cuba, looks as if it were made 50 years ago. He has been in the United States for six weeks now, a 26-year-old forward who bolted from the national team's hotel in suburban Washington prior to the World Cup qualifier against the USA at RFK Stadium.

Alcantara is pursuing a pro soccer career, something denied to him in oppressive Cuba, but until his documentation is finished, he must go to extraordinary lengths to showcase his skills. Without a proper ID, he cannot board an airplane, so to settle with friends in Orange County near Los Angeles, he was driven across country. Along the way, he worked out for the Kansas City Wizards. Once in Southern California, his representatives set up a trial with the Colorado Rapids. To make it happen, he rode a Greyhound bus 26 hours each way. A friend will drive him to San Jose next week for four days of training with the Earthquakes.

His representatives say they have a tentative agreement for Alcantara to train with the New York Red Bulls in February -- but only if another club does not submit a claim for his MLS rights when the discovery window opens Dec. 8.

More below.....

Like many Cuban defectors, the USL is also a possibility for next season.

Alcantara, who was at Home Depot Center for a charity game yesterday, acknowledges he has experienced some difficulty adjusting to American life. Before boarding the bus to Denver without supervision, he asked one of his representatives, "Are you sure it's okay to travel?" They assured him no one was following him. His diet has included lots of steak because, he said, in Cuba the beef is for export and tourists only. To communicate with friends and family back home, he has been e-mailing a third party in Cuba, a person who relays his messages. In recent weeks, he has begun English classes.

I asked him what, during his travels around America, has left the most lasting impression -- a type of food, tall buildings, the Rocky Mountains, movies, etc. He smiled and offered one word: "Freedom."

By Steve Goff  |  November 23, 2008; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  CONCACAF , MLS  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Best XI
Next: Matchday: MLS Cup

Comments

"Freedom?"
Is this a thinly veiled attempt to get signed by the Philadelphia expansion team?

Posted by: billq1 | November 23, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

"Freedom?"
Is this a thinly veiled attempt to get signed by the Washington Women's expansion team?

Posted by: jake77 | November 23, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Besta luck to him.

Posted by: Juan-John | November 23, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"Freedom?"
Is this a thinly attempt to show support for George Michael?

Posted by: SonicDeathMonkey | November 23, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Best of luck to him.
I wish him well on any opportunity he gets..but he has to watch them steaks..
lol

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 23, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"Freedom?"
Is this a thinly veiled attempt to show his favorite movie is Braveheart?


Posted by: Section117 | November 23, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Freedom?" Is what we take as granted and how unfortunate that it takes a Cuban defector to remind us how precious that is...Just the fact that we can post our opinions here is a perfect example….This Cuban footballer, given his skills, motivation and desire to succeed is what it takes to make it here and I am sure he will soon find his spot in an MLS team. Good luck Reinier and welcome to USA, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Posted by: ischianapoli | November 23, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps someone slipped him a DVD with this on it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-d5x-CiTUs

Posted by: universityandpark | November 23, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

If his lamented slip of paper is his only proof of ID, he should take it to Kinkos and get it laminated...

Posted by: edgeonyou | November 23, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

"Freedom." I'll bet that when he says it, he lets the word roll slowly over his lips and savors the taste of it.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 23, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

FWIW (absolutely nothing), the Washington Freedom weren't an expansion team.

Posted by: sitruc | November 23, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

great story .. thanks for staying on top of it.

Posted by: TestudoTheFearsome | November 24, 2008 3:34 AM | Report abuse

"...This Cuban footballer, given his skills, motivation and desire to succeed is what it takes to make it here and I am sure he will soon find his spot in an MLS team. Good luck Reinier..."
Posted by: ischianapoli | November 23, 2008 1:17 PM
-------------------------------------------
I wish him luck, as well. I am not so sure about fining a spot on an MLS team though. From what I have seen of him he looks more like USL1. Especially now that the MLS rosters are shrinking and the Reserve league got scrapped.

Outside of Galindo and maybe Alsono (currently with Charleston Battery), most of the Cuban defectors have proven to be better suited to USL1 level.

I always thought that Eduardo Sebrango (who just moved back to the Montreal Impact after winning the USL1 Championship Cup with the Vancouver Whitecaps), in his prime could have competed at MLS level. Maybe not to Galindo level but still--at 36 years old he still gives USL1 defenses problems. With his move to Montreal, everyone will be able to see how he looks against some of Mexico and Central America's best and maybe and MLS side (if Houston can make it through) in CONCACAF Champions League play next year.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 24, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: yankiboy | November 24, 2008 9:46 AM
"From what I have seen of him he looks more like USL1. Outside of Galindo and maybe Alsono (currently with Charleston Battery), most of the Cuban defectors have proven to be better suited to USL1 level".

Just wondering were you saw him play? Did you know he played on the national team both with Galindo and Osvaldo and was MVP for 2 years in a row!

Posted by: ischianapoli | November 24, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Just wondering were you saw him play? Did you know he played on the national team both with Galindo and Osvaldo and was MVP for 2 years in a row!

Posted by: ischianapoli | November 24, 2008 1:56 PM
-------------------------------------------
I had the chance to meet with a couple of the guys that have defected (we've actually had one visit with us in our home). I have been fascinated with the Cuban program for several years now.

I have never had the pleasure of seeing Alcantara play in person. I have seen him on tv I saw him playing with the Cuban national team. Seen some WC Qualifiers, some Digicel/Gold Cup.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that he is not a good player. I'm just saying that I think that USL1 would probably be more realistic.

I felt the same thing about More and so far I have been correct. But hopefully he will be healthy and have a good season next year.

I do think that Alberto Delgado will be back in the USL1. Unfortunately, he got loaned by the Puerto Rico Islanders to Sevilla Bayamon of the Puerto Rican First division. He won a championship with that club but the situation had to be a frustrating one for him. He just wasn't in Clarke's plans for this season.

It will very intersting to see which of the U-23 that defected from the Olympic qualifiers makes a USL side. I think that the keeper, José Manuel Miranda has great potential.

Of the current Cuban Senior national team guys, I would really like to see Alain Cervantes play in another setting. I think that he could make it in MLS. I can't exactly explain why. I can't put it in words. I just think that he could make the move. Of course, we will probably never know...

Posted by: yankiboy | November 24, 2008 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Lester More is not going to be playing in USL as Charleston Battery has released him. He did not have a good year and is now in LA playing on a semi-pro team along with other Cubans defectors from the under 23 olympic team.

I beg to differ from you in respect to Alcantara, as I can explain why he is MSL material; fast, focused withdrawn striker that can finish and can use both feet.. He's a veteran player with experience and has played in Europe and South America unlike the players from the under 23 team.

If you saw the games of Mexico and Panama from the Gold Cup 2007, then you can't ignore his potentials and the 2 golazos!

I wish all of Cuban players luck but this kid is going places......

Posted by: ischianapoli | November 25, 2008 4:23 AM | Report abuse

I hope that you are right about Alcantara. I want to see him do well and I hope to meet him some day. I want to see all of those guys do well.

The guy did have some nice golazos against quality competition. I don't dispute that. Sometimes I am often accused of being "too harsh in my assessments of players. A golazo is really nice but it's sometimes other things that I like to focus in on, as well. I have a co-worker who was giving me a hard time this week because she said that I didn't give Freddy Adu enough props for the gmae he played against Guatemala last week. I thought about it. She probably is right. You are probably right about Alcantara.

I had heard about More and the Battery but I also heard that part of the problem was that he was a little banged up (injured). I didn't know that he was out in LA with the U-23 kids. I really believe that he will get another shot at the USL1 if he wants it. Of course, he could play USL2 but I think that would be selling himself short, too soon. I realize that he has run a lot of miles on those legs.

Any thoughts on Cervantes? What do you think of him? Not defecting. Just as a player?

Another question for you:

Any chance that any of the U-23's get to play some college soccer? Or are they focused on just going straight to the pro ranks?

You know more about the Cuban defectors than anyone I have seen post online. That's really cool. I would love to meet you sometime.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 25, 2008 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe the U-23's can play college soccer as first and foremost, they need to qualify for college admissions and to my knowledge none of the 4 players in LA are fluent in the English language...

There are 2 other players from the U-23's still in Miami awaiting immigration papers and they have not been active so much...

My thoughts on the under 23's players in LA.....They are not focused on their careers nor their future except only one of them who shall remain nameless...I don't blame them! They are in LA with all its glamour, fun, parties, etc....that is something that was never possible for them back home and it seems to be distracting their minds...They are young and lack maturity level....My prediction; possibly one of the players could have a decent chance to be signed by USL-1 Puerto Rico this year...More's playing time is just not happening as age, injury and the lack of desire all contribute to his departure from Charleston and most likely end-up in LA playing semi-pro....

Cervantes.....I cannot comment, all I know he plays for the club team Ciego de Avila in Cuba....

Like you, I also have been following the cuban soccer team for a while and I wish them all luck and I want to see more of them playing in MLS-USL leagues.

Posted by: ischianapoli | November 25, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"I don't believe the U-23's can play college soccer as first and foremost, they need to qualify for college admissions and to my knowledge none of the 4 players in LA are fluent in the English language..."

That didn't stop Rey Angel Martinez. If memory serves me correctly Gonzalez also studied at that private University in Miami (sorry but I can't remember the name right now) and played one season of NAIA soccer on scholarship. The Cubanos in Miami hooked it up for them. So it can be done. You just need a "padrino".

I know the Islanders front office director that went to interview the U-23 players in Miami just after they defected. I was asked to not talk about it because it was supposed to be a secret but of course, it was reported almsot as quickly as it happened.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 25, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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