Cuba down to 16 in Gold Cup squad, as another player may have defected

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Despite relations between Cuba and the United States of America improving over the past few months, the Cuban national team is still have plenty of problems getting into the U.S. for the 2015 Gold Cup tournament.

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With their coach Raul Gonzalez and six players still waiting to clear visa issues, the Cubans were already down to 17 players ahead of their Gold Cup opener against Mexico in Chicago on Thursday.

Now, another player has gone missing in Chicago as it is believed he has wondered away from their camp and has defected.

Assistant coach Walter Benitez has been left to coach the team but he would not name the player who has left.

“Now we have only 16 players because one has gone absent,” Benitez said. “We don’t know where he is. The lad who went away was a first-choice player but we’ll manage. We came to play a tournament and we’re going to play it.”

Members of Cuba’s national teams in baseball, soccer and other sports have a long history of defecting while on U.S. soil for competitions.

Looking around the soccer world, the Seattle Sounders Designated Player Osvaldo Alonso defected back in 2007, while former Real Salt Lake midfielder Yordany Alvarez did the same in 2008 when he and six other members of the U-23 Cuban national team defected during an Olympic qualifying tournament in Miami.

During various tournaments in the U.S. over the years, the total number of Cuban players now believed believed to have defected is 11.

Recently the New York Cosmos became the first professional soccer team from the U.S. to play in Cuba in over 35 years after strict sanctions — which were originally imposed back in 1961 — on Americans traveling to the Caribbean island were lifted.