The U.S. men’s national team is heading to Cuba for a historic visit that will see soccer and American foreign policy collide.
For the first time since 1947, the USMNT will play a friendly against Cuba, slated for Oct. 7. The two sides will play at Estadio Pedro Marrero in Havana, a city that up until recently, Americans were heavily restricted from visiting.
"We are happy to have the chance to bring our team to Cuba," said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a statement. "In addition to good competition, we are always looking for our group to have different experiences, and this is a unique opportunity."
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Cuban Jorge Luis Clavelo (L) vies for the ball with US Landon Donovan (R) during their World Cup qualifier football match on September 6, 2008.
For more than 50 years, Americans were banned from visiting Cuba as tourists and from importing Cuban goods. But last year, the Obama Administration officially normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and in March, Barack Obama became the first president to visit the island nation since 1928. During Obama’s visit, the Tampa Bay Rays faced Cuba’s national baseball team in an example of how sports and politics can mix.
For the USMNT, the match in Cuba should serve as a testing ground after World Cup qualifiers resume in September. They will face St. Vincent & the Grenadines on Sept. 2, followed by Trinidad & Tobago four days later. Then the fifth and final hexagonal round of qualifying will begin.
The USMNT did play in Cuba once since the travel restrictions were put in place, their only other visit to Cuba in 69 years, but it was for an official World Cup qualifier in 2008. There, the U.S. beat Cuba 1-0 in rough field conditions on a Clint Dempsey goal assisted by Brian Ching.
The friendly this time around should make for a much different experience, and if the players want to bring back some of Cuba’s famous cigars, they will be plenty welcome.