Cuba defender Yosmel De Armas is believed to be attempting to defect to the United States
NASHVILLE – Cuba defender Yosmel De Armas was believed to be attempting to defect to the United States on Monday night after being listed as absent for his team’s final game in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying competition.
Rumors began to circulate that De Armas had become the latest Cuban athlete to seek exile in the United States when he did not appear at LP Field for Cuba’s Group A clash with Canada.
Coach Raul Triana Gonzalez claimed that to his knowledge De Armas still was at the team hotel in Nashville as of Monday afternoon and cited illness or injury for the player’s absence.
Two Cuban players sought asylum during the Olympic women’s qualifying tournament in Vancouver in January, and seven players defected during the 2008 version of the men’s CONCACAF tournament in Tampa, Fla. Yosniel Mesa, of the full men’s team, defected during the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer.
A string of Cuban baseball players have earned lucrative MLB contracts after fleeing their homeland and being allowed to remain in the United States.
The De Armas situation came as Cuba avoided defeat for the first time in the competition, earning a shocking 1-1 draw against a Canadian side that had beaten the USA two days earlier.
Coach Triana attempted to deflect the situation when quizzed by Yahoo! Sports during the official post-match news conference.
After first being asked about De Armas’ status, Triana simply replied: “No comment.”
The following exchange with Yahoo! Sports, through an official CONCACAF interpreter, took place.
Yahoo! Sports: “At what point today or over the last couple of days was the coach aware that he wouldn’t have a full squad to choose from for the game.”
(Triana gave a long-winded answer that referred to various players missing from the team through suspension or injury, but made no mention of De Armas).
Yahoo!: “How many players did he have to choose from?”
Triana (through translator): “Did he not see the lineup?”
Yahoo!: “I saw the lineup. Were all the players on that list available?”
Triana: “Apart from the two ejections.”
Yahoo!: “What about the player who was not at the stadium. Was he available? Did you consider him available?”
Triana: “The player that is not here today is feeling very sick – yesterday in practice he injured his ankle. He is in the hotel and if something else happened I don’t know about it. I already said he was in the hotel today.”
Yahoo! Sports contacted the Cuba team hotel and asked to be put through to De Armas’ room. A front-desk clerk replied that all calls had to be directed to the coach. CONCACAF had no immediate comment.
De Armas can apply for asylum at any federal office, most likely at the Department of Homeland Security agency. Yahoo! Nashville’s Homeland Security office was closed for the day.
A source close to Brothers To The Rescue, an organization that has helped countless Cuban refugees, told Yahoo! Sports on Monday night that the group believed De Armas had gone missing from the Cuba hotel and would assist him in any way it could.
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