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U.S., Cuban Soccer Teams Face-Off In Havana


Now, if you're looking for a corruption-free soccer story, we have one.


The New York Cosmos are playing the Cuban National Team in Havana tonight.

CORNISH: No, the Cuban team is not a world powerhouse. The Cosmos play in the second-tier North American Soccer League.

BLOCK: So it's not the very best soccer in the world, but some history was made in Pedro Marrero Stadium. The Cosmos are the first U.S. soccer team to play in Cuba since 1978.

CORNISH: And it's the first U.S. pro-sports team of any kind in Cuba since the two countries opened diplomatic ties in December.

BLOCK: Ted Henken is a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College who specializes in Cuba. He says events like tonight's game may not be as important as opening up an embassy, but they do matter.

TED HENKEN: They allow, you know, human beings to put a human face on the supposed enemy.

CORNISH: But why soccer instead of baseball or boxing, the sports Cuba is more famous for? Ted Henken's answer - today's Cuba is not so much your grandfather's Cuba.

HENKEN: Think about Cuba in terms of boxing, baseball, cigars, rum and Fidel is really - those are the five things from the past. Part of it is identifying with soccer allows Cubans who are hungry for contact with the rest of the world to feel part of what's going on in the rest of the world, whether it's the World Cup or a game that's being, you know, played between Cuba's best players and the Cosmos.

BLOCK: Tonight's game was a sellout and nationally televised in Cuba. The New York Cosmos won handily 4 to 1. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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