The U.S. men's soccer team is in Havana to face the Cuban squad for its first match on the Communist-ruled island in 61 years. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the U.S. team is carrying a three-game winning streak in a World Cup qualifying play into Saturday's match.
The U.S. team arrived in Havana late Thursday, after months of preparation to process visas and travel arrangements for the players and staff. The last time the national team played in Cuba was 1947, for an exhibition match that the Cubans won 5-2.
The U.S. team spent its final practice days in Miami this week, in an effort to get acclimated to the heat and humidity expected during Saturday's match.
Coach Bob Bradley says the latest training sessions have gone well and players are excited about the historic match. He adds team officials have talked with players about the political issues surrounding the trip, and encouraged them to stick to their normal routine. "And we have experienced players who have been through World Cup qualifying and help keep us on track in terms of the understanding that every game is difficult and what we need to do, especially on the road to win," he said.
Players say they are excited to travel to a place few Americans have been because of U.S. restrictions imposed against the Communist government in Havana.
Forward Clint Dempsey says the focus is on soccer, not politics."Everybody is there for the same reason, they love to play soccer. When you go out and compete hard, after a tough competition, guys always can take their hats off and know they gave their best. And I think that is what brings people together," he said.
U.S. players can expect to see few if any American fans in Havana's Pedro Marero stadium, because of the U.S. travel restrictions. The squad faced a hostile crowd during its last World Cup qualifying game in Guatemala last month, when the Americans prevailed 1-0.
The Havana match is the third straight road game for the Americans in World Cup qualifiers. Dempsey says the team is getting used to playing in difficult circumstances. "It doesn't matter who you are playing, in what country. You are going to have some crowds where everyone is against you. You have to go there and get the job done. We are used to that, even when we play at home sometimes," he said.
The U.S. men are seeking to qualify for the World Cup for a sixth consecutive time. Cuba's national team has not advanced to the tournament since 1938.