He's not the first Cuban player in Major League Soccer, but he's probably the best.
Osvaldo Alonso defected to the United States from Cuba in 2007, a path taken by a number of Cuban soccer players over the years. Signed by the Seattle Sounders ahead of that club's inaugural MLS season in 2009, Alonso has been a rock in midfield ever since, and is certainly one of the best defensive midfielders in the league over the past decade.
“I’m very happy for the opportunity a big country like the United States is giving to Cuban soccer, for them to go and play a friendly there is big," he said on Wednesday. "It’s something huge for our country, and I hope this opens doors for the future of Cuban soccer players. It makes me very happy that the soccer world is giving us this opportunity.”
The 30-year-old is a former Cuban national team player, earning 16 caps before his defection. After becoming a US citizen in 2012, there was some effort made to obtain eligibility to play for the US national team, but Alonso explained that is likely never going to come to pass.
“I tried first to keep on playing for the Cuban national team, but because the way I came to this country, they don’t accept me anymore,” he explained. “The US came to me to give me the opportunity to play with them, but I had to wait for an official release from the Cuban Federation, which never came.
"Everything is in stand-by and I think it’s not going to happen anymore, because it’s been more than three years and I haven’t heard back from any of them.”
Despite that disappointment, Alonso made it clear he still wishes he could play for Cuba.
“It was always a dream of mine to represent my country. I’m left with the curiosity of not being able to play [this game] with my team, with Cuba. In my case things are different, but I’m very happy for what I did and I wish the guys the best on Friday’s game against the US, and I’ll be supporting them from here."
Cuba is fielding a mostly Cuban-based squad for the match, with just one player on the roster currently playing in Mexico. Alonso admitted the closed political environment has hampered Cuban soccer.
“There are a lot of very good players in Cuba but before we haven’t had the opportunity to play abroad and against other soccer players who play internationally," he explained. "That has slowed Cuba’s soccer development a little bit.”
One teammate who will be participating in the game is Sounders forward Jordan Morris, who was called up by the US. Alonso revealed his comments made to the MLS rookie before Morris departed for international duty.
“I told [Jordan] it was going to be a very warm country, where people are very friendly and that he was going to have fun,” he enthused. “Cuban fans are very competitive and passionate about sports, and I know it’s going to be a very emotional game for both sides.”
Diego Pinzon contributed reporting to this story.