The New York Cosmos are once again making history. On Monday, the club announced that they will be the first U.S.-based team to play in Cuba in 15 years in June when they take on the Cuban National Team.
The match is currently scheduled to take place on June 2nd. Although a television deal has not been announced one would expect that the match would be shown live. The Cosmos currently have a national television deal with One World Sports, which has shown many of their international exhibitions this off-season.
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Although the match is just an exhibition its implications are huge for both reasons on and off of the pitch. The Cosmos will be the first U.S. soccer club to play in Cuba since the Chicago Sting played on the island nation in 1977. The Baltimore Orioles pf Major League Baseball are the last U.S.-based club to play in Cuba, having made the trip to Havana back in 1999.
This announcement comes on the heels of the U.S. government restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba back in December. Aside from adding an embassy and swapping prisoners, the deal opened up the chance for some economic ties to develop. Although players and teams from Cuba regularly play one another in international competition (in particular with boxing and during World Cup Qualification,) there has been minimal contact on the club level.
Perhaps what is most interesting about this deal is that it is a soccer team that will be making this historic voyage and not a baseball team. Cuba is more widely known for its prowess in baseball and in boxing and soccer has never really been as big in the country. They have only made the World Cup once (1938) and they have never made it out of the Quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
But interest in the game is rising in Cuba and the team will be playing in this year’s Gold Cup, scheduled for July. More exposure to international clubs can only improve the product in Cuba.
For the Cosmos this is also another unique opportunity to expand their brand into an area where there is minimal international club influence. Although many kids will likely be wearing Real Madrid and Barcelona jerseys in June, the Cosmos have a chance to be the first club to put in a soccer academy in Cuba and the chance to get a look at some of the best players in the area. Across multiple sports Cubans proven themselves to be tremendous athletes. If the Cosmos can be the first team to tap into that market then they will have a unique edge in the region in terms of scouting.
Despite having not even played an NASL regular season match yet this has been a very big off-season for the Cosmos. The club signed Spanish legend Raul last October and re-signed coach Giovanni Savarese to a long-term deal. Cuba will also not be their first exhibition match abroad in 2015 as they previously played in Hong Kong at the 2015 Lunar New Year Cup.
The Cosmos will begin the 2015 NASL Spring Season on April the 4th against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.