Major League Soccer took the week off because of the international FIFA fixture dates. On Friday, the United States played its penultimate match of the semi-final round. As was true with the last away match during qualifying, the game was only televised on betIN Sports, the new network from Al JAzeera. The English language version of the channel is only available on limited cable and satellite systems. The network did telecast the game live, while the Spanish language version of the network showed the match in tape delay because of qualification games in South America.
The final game of the round will be broadcast from LiveStrong Sporting Park on ESPN2 on Tuesday. The match is set for 7:00 Eastern and the game is an anticipated sellout. A win or draw by the US will ensure that the American advance to the final Hexagonal round. On Wednesday, MLS will return with a nationally televised game on the NBSCN. The match will feature Seattle and RSL from Lincoln Financial Field.
As part of the qualifying process, 5 more Cuban players defected, a process that has brought players like Galindo and Alonso to MLS.
While there are visa rules and procedures for athletes seeking to ply their trade in the U.S., Cuba presents an interesting exception. The “Wet feet, dry feet” policy, established by the Clinton Administration, is unique to Cuba and permits any Cuban who makes it to U.S. shores to remain in the U.S. (See Cuban Adjustment Act). Thus, players who walk away from international competitions in the U.S. are afforded the opportunity to immediately seek work in the United States. In addition to an escape from Castro, these asylum seekers have an opportunity to earn huge wage increases by coming to the U.S. In this case, the players actually escaped in Canada.
The Cuban exception has long been a point of contention for immigration activists, but from a soccer perspective Cuba is unique for other reasons. Soccer players in Central and South America countries typically play in well-funded leagues and earn ample salaries. Soccer is a “first choice” sport for many in these countries and provides an avenue for financial success. Talented players in these regions are actively scouted by MLS and European leagues and often transfer to well-known teams around the world. Thus, there is little reason for a soccer player in, say Mexico, to emigrate to the U.S. (legally or illegally), as Mexican soccer salaries are typically higher than MLS salaries. Conversely, Cuba is a baseball country and soccer salaries compare to those of other Cuban professions. Cuban leagues are not particularly well-scouted. Accordingly, an escape to the U.S. may be a Cuban player’s best opportunity to to pursue a career in professional soccer.
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