NASL Is Forging A Relationship With Cuba

The NASL and Cuba are developing relationships ahead of the Cosmos' friendly that could foster more interaction
Michael Lewis (@Soccerwriter} | Jun 2, 2015

For Bill Peterson, it was the right time to take a bold step and open the door to Cuba.

That is why the North American Soccer League’s commissioner decided to pursue a possible international friendly between one of his teams and the national team of Cuba.

That possibility will become reality on Tuesday night when the New York Cosmos face the Cubans at Estadio Pedro Marrero (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, One World Sports, ESPN Deportes).

Peterson said the idea emerged when the United States government announced it was relaxing some of its restrictions – travel and otherwise – with Cuba after a half-century of animosity. Then things fell into place, some via hard work, some by coincidence.

He asked Steven Torres, Manager of Public Relations and International/Hispanic Media at the NASL, who served a similar capacity in CONCACAF, the sport’s regional governing body, to call the Cuban federation to see if it was willing to talk to league officials about the future.

Then, by coincidence, Cuban soccer officials were in Jamaica for an Under-23 tournament, but so were Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese and his coaching staff. They tracked down the Cubans and arranged a meeting.

From that meeting came the idea of playing a game.

"That's the start of it, and hopefully that's just the beginning," Peterson said.

Perhaps, it’s the start of something big.

How big?

On Monday night, more than 150 people attended two news conferences at the Melia Cohiba hotel with the Cosmos, Cuban soccer officials, Pelé, Raúl, and Cuban captain Yénier Márquez in the spotlight.

"The press conference obviously was incredible," Peterson said during breakfast at the same hotel Tuesday morning. "That was as large of a press conference that you will see for almost anything I guess. I assume every camera in Cuba was here. The people I have spoken to are very excited about the match. Some people we met in the streets and some people at the youth clinic were very excited about the fact there was going to be a match between the Cosmos and their national team.

"I spent some times with some other people yesterday. It seems similar to a situation in Puerto Rico where it was all about baseball, and now you're seeing soccer growing and establishing itself. Maybe it's something tied to us or something else that will push it over the top and help it grow."

Peterson wants to start small and let it grow.

He said it could open the door for Cubans to play in the NASL, coaching and game official exchanges between the league and the Caribbean nation.

"For us, it's a logical path," Peterson said. "We're in sports, and the best way to start any relationship is with a match, and [the] match will be significant and historical."

During the news conference, a reporter asked Peterson if there might be a Havana expansion team in the future.

"With the changing relationships between the two countries and our presence here in the Caribbean, I've learned never to say never, but it's not something that either one of us would focus on today," he said. "But you never know."

After all, before President Obama relaxed the embargo last December, who ever considered the Cosmos or any other NASL team playing a match in Cuba?

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