Thawing relations between the United States and Cuba opened the door for the U.S. men’s soccer team to agree to play a friendly in Havana on Friday. The team will train in Miami from Monday through Thursday and then head to Cuba.
It will be just the second time in 69 years that the U.S. team plays on the Caribbean island. The other time was Sept. 6, 2008, for a World Cup qualifying match, which the Americans won 1-0. The game will be played at 28,000-seat Estadio Pedro Marrero, which before the revolution was known affectionately as “La Tropical,” short for Gran Stadium Cerveceria Tropical.
The 4 p.m. game will be televised on ESPN and Univision.
“We are happy to have the chance to bring our team to Cuba,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “In addition to good competition, we are always looking for our group to have different experiences, and this is a unique opportunity.”
In an effort to give the players and staff a good understanding of the history of U.S.-Cuba relations before they go on the trip, team officials invited Dr. Andy Gomez, a retired expert from the University of Miami, to address the group and answer questions during their Miami stay.
The U.S. team will be heavily favored in the game, as Cuba hasn’t played a meaningful match since March, when it was bounced from the Caribbean Cup after finishing last in a group that included French Guiana and Bermuda.
Klinsmann will use the friendly against Cuba and an Oct. 11 match against New Zealand at RFK Stadium in Washington to evaluate his team going forward into the next stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Six teams from the CONCACAF region are still alive — the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. The top three teams after the 10-game playoff will advance from the hexagonal, and the fourth-place team enters an intercontinental playoff. The United States opens Nov. 11 against rival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, and then plays at Costa Rica on Nov. 15. The Americans have never won a qualifier on Costa Rican soil in seven tries.
Klinsmann is expected to release his roster on Sunday. One of the most exciting players who surely will be on the list is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old phenom who played very well in recent qualifiers and is also making a name for himself with Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga.
Another player to watch for is Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya, the midfielder who left French team Nantes this season to play for the Philadelphia Union in Major League Soccer. He scored his first goal last week in a 1-1 tie with Toronto.
Forward Jozy Altidore, who grew up in Boca Raton, is healthy and expected to pair with Bobby Wood up top. Seattle’s Jordan Morris is also likely to be on the team and play a big role.
One player the team will have to do without is Clint Dempsey, who was ruled out for the rest of the season by the Seattle Sounders because of an irregular heartbeat. Dempsey is one of the greatest players in U.S. history and is a team leader, so he will be missed.
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey, the former Miami Fusion goalkeeper, told reporters Tuesday that the team thought the move had to be made to preserve Dempsey’s future.
“We simply haven’t been able to get to a point where we felt there was a realistic chance [of a return this season],” Lagerwey said. “We’re not comfortable putting any pressure on this. His return to play is not important relative to his health, both short-term and long-term.
“We feel that by ruling him out [Tuesday], that puts us in the best position to eventually get him back, hopefully for the 2017 season.”
No doubt Klinsmann feels the same way.
MLS: East — NYC (51), Toronto (49), N.Y. (48), Philadelphia (42). West — Dallas (53), Colorado and L.A. (48), Real Salt Lake (45), Kansas City (43).
NASL: N.Y. Cosmos (34), Miami FC (28), Indy and Edmonton (27), Minnesota and Ottawa (20).
English Premier League: Manchester City (18), Liverpool (16), Tottenham and Everton (14), Arsenal and Chelsea (13).
La Liga: Real Madrid and Sevilla (14), Barcelona (13), Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Atletico Bilbao (12).
Serie A: Juventus (15), Napoli (14), Lazio and Verona (13), Inter (11).
Ligue 1: Monaco (19), Nice (17), PSG (16), Toulouse (14), Bordeaux, Rennes and Metz (13).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (16), Berlin (13), Dortmund, Cologne and Leipzig (12).
Sunday: Manchester United vs. Stoke City (7 a.m., NBCSN, Telemundo), Tottenham vs. Manchester City (9:10 a.m., NBCSN, Telemundo), Burnley vs. Arsenal (11:25 a.m., NBCSN, Telemundo), Orlando City vs. Montreal (1 p.m., ESPN), Women’s Professional League: Portland vs. Western New York (5 p.m., FS1), Vancouver vs. Seattle (8 p.m, FS1).