HAVANA, Cuba -- In 2008, there was the story of the “Cuba Cinco,” the five US national team fans who traveled to Cuba the last time the US faced the island country in the Caribbean. This time around, a considerable number more will be cheering from the stands when the US returns to Havana’s Pedro Marrero Stadium for a historic friendly match between the two countries (Friday, 4 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMás).
Indeed, wherever the US national team goes, the American Outlaws will follow – even when a hurricane throws a wrench into the works. Around 70 members from various American Outlaws chapters signed up for the supporters’ group travel package, which offered charter flights, visa help, and accommodations in the swanky Hotel Melia Habana.
Then Hurricane Matthew appeared over the Atlantic. As it tore through the Caribbean, leaving a trail of destruction over Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas and beyond, the storm veered closer and closer to the southeastern coast of Florida. Havana, at the opposite western end of Cuba, remained unaffected, with the game planned to go on as scheduled – but then nearly every flight out of Miami was canceled on Thursday.
Yet that won’t deter the fiercely devoted.
“[We] had to work hard to figure out an alternative to get our members to Cuba, said AO’s Justin Brunken, who coordinated the travel package, and he found a way. He rerouted fans on a new charter – but from Tampa, Florida, and leaving on Friday.
As of now, everyone is still scheduled to land a few hours ahead of kickoff and make it to the game in time, the first group of American fans to cheer on their team in Havana since the countries’ political détente.
“We think it is historic to be able to follow and support the team,” Brunken said, “where many fans couldn’t go to do so in the past.”
A few members made it to Havana on separate, earlier flights, and their traditional night-before festivities will go on with smaller numbers on Thursday. After the game, the whole group is planning a local pick-up game on Saturday.
Between that, there’s the 90 minutes on Friday, if everything goes according to the new plan. “Hopefully everything goes smoothly with the changes,” Brunken said, “and we can get as many of our members still to Cuba and in time to support the boys!”