2 Cuban soccer defectors ready for a new start in U.S.
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Pedro Faife's name was on the Cuban roster for Saturday night's World Cup qualifier against the United States, but the 24-year-old midfielder was nowhere near RFK Stadium.
He slipped away from the team's hotel at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon with a maternal aunt and cousins, who drove him 750 miles to their Orlando home. He spent Saturday celebrating his newfound freedom shopping for shoes, clothes and toiletries.
Faife was one of two players to defect from the Cuban national team since its arrival in the nation's capital, and one of 15 Cuban soccer players to defect while in the United States since 2002.
Forward Reynier Alcantara, 26, disappeared from the Doubletree Crystal City hotel Thursday night and is believed to be with his wife's U.S. relatives.
Faife said he was not ready to make any comments yet, but his aunt said he is surrounded by loved ones and ready to begin this new stage of his life.
''It's been a very emotional 24 hours,'' said Faife's aunt, who did not want her name used for fear of consequences to her relatives in Cuba. ``Pedro is an only child. His father is ill, and this was a very tough decision for him. He also has a wife and a 2-year-old son. I didn't even know he planned to stay. We had driven up to Washington to see him and to take him a care package to take back to Cuba. He surprised us with the news.''
She had visited Cuba in June and saw him then, but she said they never discussed the possibility of him defecting.
''As far as we knew, he was just coming to play and we made plans to go watch him play,'' she said. ``Of course, he is a little bit nervous because this is a big decision for such a young man, but we assured him everything will be OK.''
Faife, who is from Villa Clara, had played 46 games for the Cuban national team and played particularly well against the U.S. when the teams played in Havana last month. He hopes to play professionally once he gets his immigration status and working papers in order. He has already been in contact with two former Cuban defectors -- Maykel Galindo, who is from Faife's hometown and plays for Chivas USA of Major League Soccer, and Lester More, who plays for the Charleston Battery of United Soccer Leagues.
The Cuban media was highly critical of the two players, calling them traitors, according to German press agency reports.
''Cuban footballers Reynier Alcantara and Pedro Faife betrayed the unity of their select team and gave in to the temptations of the empire's money, and for that reason abandoned the national team,'' said a Cuban TV newscast. 'As always, the team will go out to defend the colors of the national flag, rising above the traitors' mud.''
Cuban forward Leonel Duarte was asked by reporters before the trip about the possibility of defections.
''All of us who go there are revolutionaries and believe in the Cuban revolution,'' he said. ``It may be that people will approach us and try to bribe us, blackmail us, place extra pressure on us, but we're going there only to play football.''
The last time a Cuban soccer team played on U.S. soil was in March of this year in Tampa, and seven players from the Cuban Olympic qualifying team bolted from their team hotel and defected. Two of those players are playing in the Puerto Rican pro league and the rest are awaiting work permits.
Galindo, who defected in Seattle during the 2005 Gold Cup, has had the
most success of the recent Cuban arrivals. Four of the defectors -- More,
Alberto Delgado, Rey Martinez and Osvaldo Alonso -- found work in the USL.
Alonso was named USL Rookie of the Year Saturday.