The New York Cosmos soccer club defeated Cuba’s national team 4-1 Tuesday in a friendly match that was the first visit to the island by a U.S. professional team since the two countries began their detente effort in December.
Lucky Mksona scored two goals, in the seventh minute and against in the 41st, sandwiched around goals by Cosmos teammates Sebastian Guenzatti in minute 31 and Hagop Chirishian three minutes after that.
Andy Vaquero scored Cuba’s lone goal at the 50th minute.
The game was played in a persistent rain that prevented the 74-year-old Brazilian soccer legend Pele from making the symbolic opening kick. But thousands filled the stands at Pedro Marrero stadium, cheering on the game with soccer hymns.
After the final whistle, Cosmos players saluted the audience, which responded with applause and cheers.
Soccer’s popularity is growing on this baseball-crazy island, and officials held up the game as another important step in the moves by the U.S. and Cuba to normalize relations after decades of Cold War antagonism.
The New York team was the first professional U.S. soccer team to play in Cuba since the now-defunct Chicago Sting visited in 1978 after President Jimmy Carter made an attempt to improve relations with Cuba and opened the U.S. interests section in Havana that both countries want to soon convert into a full embassy.