New York Cosmos set June date to play Cuba in Havana

Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:48pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Cosmos have arranged a sporting step in the move toward normalizing relations with Cuba by announcing on Monday a June 2 match in Havana against the Cuba national soccer team.

Three months after President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro vowed to restore diplomatic ties severed 54 years ago, the Cosmos announced plans to be the first U.S. professional soccer club team to play in Cuba since 1978.

"We had several trips to Washington, my colleagues met with the State Department officials responsible and they've been truly fantastic, a lot of support," said Seamus O'Brien, chairman of the North American Soccer League club.

Attending the news conference in midtown Manhattan were U.S. Congressmen Charles Rangel and Gregory Meeks.

O'Brien, who in December announced the signing of Spanish star Raul to the second incarnation of the Cosmos, said Cuba would be the 42nd country they will play in after recent trips to Hong Kong and El Salvador.

"It's not just what you do in your own country. It's a global game," said O'Brien. "It's a global economy and we want to be a part of it."

The Cosmos and the NASL reformed in 2013 after the league was shuttered in 1984.

Cuban national coach Walter Benitez said it was a privilege to play against the Cosmos, who became a worldwide draw in the 1970s with players like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto.   Continued...

Giovanni Savarese (L), Head Coach of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League and Walter Benitez (R), Head Coach of the Cuban national team attend a news conference in New York, March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar