SEATTLE — Despite not being able to play for his native country anymore, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is not afraid to support Cuba in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He watched the final group match against Belize, an improbable 4-0 win that sent Cuba into the quarterfinals.
“They have to play now [against Panama] like they did with Belize,” Alonso said after Sounders training on Thursday. “I hope they go to the semifinal.”
It’s the second time in Gold Cup history that Cuba advanced beyond the first round. The other came in 2003, when a 2-0 win over Canada and 3-0 loss to Costa Rica was enough to advance out of the three-team group, based on that head-to-head result with Canada. (All three teams in the group ended on three points — Costa Rica had a plus-2 goal difference, while the others finished with minus-1.)
Under intense scrutiny every time it takes the field, mostly from people counting players to see whether any of the 23-man roster has defected to the United States, Cuba has held onto every player so far. When the team played in Portland, Ore., against Costa Rica to open its tournament, Alonso made the short drive south to watch the game.
“They’re focused. I don’t know anybody [who has] defected yet, but I think they’re focused on the game,” he said. “They want to win. I spoke with them when I went to Portland. They told me they’re going to play hard to be in the final.”
Alonso had only positive memories of his time playing with Cuba, despite life off the field driving him to defect to the U.S. He left the team during the 2007 Gold Cup, on an outing to a Wal-Mart in Houston.
He trained with Chivas USA for a short time, eventually signing with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. After he won the USL-1 Rookie of the Year, Seattle Sounders FC picked him up.
“Always good things go through my mind, being with the national team,” Alonso said. “Representing Cuba is something good, but now I have to focus on Seattle. I have to forget Cuba. I’m not allowed to play anymore, so the only thing I have from Cuba is just my friends.”
Charleston, where Alonso signed his first American professional contract, has become somewhat of a haven for Cuban defectors. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang and forward Evier Cordovéz currently play for the Battery. All three left the Cuban team prior to a World Cup qualifier against Canada in Toronto in 2012.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to come here, to play in the MLS and USL — any league,” Alonso said. “I’m very happy for them, to come here and get the opportunity to play professionally.”