Volunteer, Make A New Friend

One of the toughest volunteer assignments in sports has got to be serving as liaison to a touring Cuban national team.

One of the toughest volunteer assignments in sports has got to be serving as liaison to a touring Cuban national team.

You might think it’s a part-time commitment of one or two weeks, with an upside of some free game tickets. Then again, you’re just as likely to get a phone call in the middle of the night, with the caller asking something about asylum.

The latest round of Cuban defections during a major soccer tournament occurred the other night in Tampa. Five players from the Under-23s went missing following a 1-1 draw with the U.S. in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying. Two more players sought refuge the next afternoon.

With seven defections and one game remaining, Cuba is truly shorthanded. In its 2-0 loss to Honduras it played with only 10 players. CONCACAF officials may pull the plug and rule the Cubans’ final group game a forfeit.

It’s the largest en masse Cuban soccer mutiny and the fourth in six years.

A total of six defections were reported during the last three CONCACAF Gold Cups, including the 2005 event in Seattle. That began with one Cuban taking flight after leaving the Qwest Field locker room. Later that evening came the stuff of local lore.

With his team’s travel party in disarray back at the hotel, Maykel Galindo simply slipped out a stairwell exit and into the night. Next thing you know, Galindo’s asking a Metro bus driver to help him place a phone call. Answering on the other end? Yep, the team’s local volunteer liaison.

Poor guy. One hour he’s watching a player dribble through a defense and the next finds the same forward at your doorstep.

Since that fateful night it’s gone well for Galindo. Soon afterward he signed for the Sounders, and in 2006 he helped them win a league title. Now he’s an MLS mainstay at Chivas USA.

Incidentally, Lester Moré, Cuba’s all-time scoring leader who defected at last summer’s Gold Cup in Houston, signed this week with Charleston of USL Division 1.

Some of the Tampa Seven are also using the Galindo blueprint and none too discreetly. A few of the defector are reportedly already in contact with the Miami FC Blues, the Sunshine State’s sole USL Division 1 franchise, about a tryout.

I Want My ESPN Deportes


Yes, yes, Sir Alex. We love our Premiership football. But sometimes we crave a little diversity in our Champions League fare.

Typically, ESPN2 airs Champions League games involving EPL clubs, and that’s good. However, the best pairings of a given matchday often do not involve teams of Anglo ancestry.

So if you want to watch Barcelona or Real Madrid in action–live, at least–you must have access to ESPN Deportes, the network’s Spanish language station, and a premium channel around these parts.

Of course, given the trend that could change.

ESPN Deportes added nearly 1 million subscribers last week when it launched on Time Warner Cable’s Los Angeles system. That’s an overnight spike of 15 percent and in the past year the ranks of viewers has more than tripled nationwide.
 
ESPN Deportes, which also airs Mexican First Division games and several soccer-related studio shows, now has 7 million national subscribers, including digital-basic tiers in the country’s top three Hispanic markets: New York, Miami and now L.A.

It’s Good to be a Minnow


It’s what cups are all about.

Barnsley’s blockbuster defeat of Chelsea in the F.A. Cup quarters was all the buzz last weekend. One goal, the Blues’ furious last-minute attempts for the equalizer and all of it capped off by fans storming the field at the final whistle.

Even Chelsea supporters must have been moved by the Barnsley players’ grit and determination and, moreover, by their fans’ unbridled joy.

For sure, it was a good week to be a minnow.

In all the F.A. Cup was rocked by three upsets, beginning with ex-Sounder Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth winning on the road at Manchester United. Cardiff of Wales and West Bromwich made it three second-tier teams in the semis. Of those three, only West Brom (currently fourth in the English League Championship) is contending for promotion to the Premier League next season.

There’s been some much-need change of form in the UEFA Champions League as well. Turkey’s Fenerbahce reach the quarterfinals for the first time following a regulation time comeback and subsequent shootout win at Sevilla.

A record four English teams are among the last eight, prompting Man U manager Alex Ferguson to say, “The Premier League is the strongest in Europe.”

One English team is sure to be eliminated in the next stage as Arsenal and Liverpool meet. For the second year in a row, United are pitted against Roma and Chelsea drew the Cinderella, Fenerbahce. The next round begins Apr. 1.

Turn On, Tune In


The local forecast calls for another drenching Saturday, giving you sufficient reason to watch game after game from a comfortable seat.

Unless it’s another epic win by a minnow, by the time dawn breaks on the West Coast, United will demolish Derby and overtake Arsenal for the Premiership lead (5 a.m., Setanta).

On Fox Soccer Channel, the live doubleheader starts at 8 a.m. with Reading traveling to high-flying Liverpool. Since Rafael Benitez rarely leaves well enough alone, the Reds will likely field a lineup which gives Marcus Hahnemann and the Royals an opportunity to climb further clear of the relegation zone. Later, at 10, Arsenal will try to retake the top of the league against Boro.

What promises to be the best FSC game of the day comes courtesy of Serie A at 12:30. Roma hosts Milan in one of the few European fixtures involving two top-fives.

Olympic qualifying group games wrap-up Saturday afternoon, with the U.S. advancing with either a win or draw against Honduras (FSC, 4 p.m.)

Although the Champions League takes a break, there are a few midweek tilts of note. CONCACAF Champions League second legs for D.C. United (Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.) and Houston (Wed., 4 p.m.) are on FSC, as are the all-important men’s Olympic Qualifier semifinals. Both winners proceed to Beijing this summer.

Also on Wednesday afternoon (FSC, 4 p.m.), Man United plays Bolton under the Old Trafford lights.

Throw-ins


Tickets for the Mexico-China international Apr. 16 at Qwest Field go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. and are available through Ticketmaster and the stadium box office…Be sure to have your say on the new MLS Seattle Web site. Complete the online survey athttp://www.turnkeysurveyor.com/Surveyor2/default.aspx?sid=838316…Major League Soccer’s newest Designated Player is Claudio Lopez, a 33-year-old Argentine forward from Racing Club in Buenos Aires. Lopez joins Kansas City. He is the seventh DP since the so-called Beckham Rule went into effect…Onetime Tacoma resident Preki just missed the cut for the newest U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame class announced earlier this week. Preki, who emigrated from Yugoslavia to play indoors for the Stars. He scored the winning goal in the1998 U.S. upset of Brazil and was a two-time MLS MVP. He got the most votes in player voting, appearing on 68 percent of the ballots (he needed 75 percent to make it). The only two inductees are North Carolina and U.S. women’s national team coach Anson Dorrance (from the builders category) and the veteran player category representative Hugo Perez, once an NASL and MISL star…Kudos to Hope Solo and the WNT for winning the Algarve Cup with a 12-1 goal differential. The team gets a week off before preparing for Olympic qualifying in Mexico, Apr. 2-12…Early word is that the MLS All-Stars will be facing West Ham in Toronto July 24. The all-stars have beaten a British club each of the past three summers…The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed former Japan and J-League and midfielder Takashi Hirano.

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