Cuba face player shortage ahead of Gold Cup match against Mexico

Travel problems and a defection have depleted Cuba's team ahead of Thursday's Gold Cup opener in Chicago.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve heard of a soccer team playing a man down. Cuba will take things to another level Thursday night as it takes on powerful Mexico without its head coach and seven players — one of them apparently gone for good.

Forward Keilen Garcia left the team hotel in Chicago on Wednesday and apparently has defected, assistant coach Walter Benitez said, via Goal.com.

While the Cubans can’t expect to have him back in their lineup, they had hoped that head coach Raul Gonzalez Triana and six other players who had been held up by visa issues would arrive in time for the Gold Cup opener. But that apparently won’t happen.

That will leave the Cubans, heavy underdogs anyway, with a 16-man roster Thursday.

"There are players we didn’t think would start previously that will have to now," Benitez said. "That’s just the expectation." 

Travel issues are one thing, but defections are a constant problem for Cuba’s athletic teams when they go abroad. Last week, two players defected from Cuba’s baseball team during a three-city series of exhibitions in North Carolina.

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