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New York's Soccer Team Cosmos played in Cuba first match in 16 years

The New York soccer team Cosmos travelled to Cuba this week to play a game against the island for the first time in years. The U.S team arrived in Havana last Sunday ahead of the game on Tuesday, making them the first professional American sports team to play a game with the Caribbean island in 16 years.

New York's Soccer Team Cosmos played in Cuba first match in 16 years

A New York soccer team has become the first American professional sports team to play a game with Cuba in 16 years, following the recent changes in U.S-Cuba relations.

Cosmos arrived in Havana on a private charter flight Sunday ahead of a soccer game against Cuba on Tuesday at the Pedro Marrero Stadium.

The team was joined by the Brazilian former player Pele who has been battling a number of health problems over recent months. Pele played for Cosmos alongside Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia in the team's 1970s heyday.

Planning for this week's match in Havana started earlier this year, when the Cosmos first approached officials in the US and Cuba about organising a game. Erik Stover, the Chief Executive of Cosmos, explained:

"It became pretty real pretty fast, and we had to just take the steps in good order and get everybody on board. Whether it was the State Department, Justice Department, White House.

"We went down (to Washington), very quietly, and they were immediately supportive."

Giovanni Savarese, the coach of Cosmos, went to Jamaica in January and talked to Cuban officials during the regional qualifiers for the Under-20 World Cup. Mr Savarese commented:

"I had the chance to come to the president of the Cuban national federation. I said 'We would like to play a match against you'. At the beginning, he said 'Okay, let's talk about it. Where are you coming from?'

"I said 'New York, and we are the New York Cosmos.' His eyes opened up."

The team's visit is a breakthrough following a five-decades-long embargo between the United States and Cuba, which has recently changed as the two countries agreed to resume relations.

Cosmos do not play in Major League Soccer, the biggest US league, but they compete in NASL, and are one of the country's most recognised football teams who often take the show on the road to play friendlies in countries such as Hong Kong and El Salvador. Cuba will be their 42nd country to visit.

"No other team, past or present, gets close. The club has a history of travelling overseas, opening doors. This happened naturally, very quickly. There was instant reciprocity from both sides, wanting to do the game."

Explained Seamus O'Brien, the Chairman of Cosmos.

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