USMNT gearing up for friendly visit to HavanaReading midfielder Danny Williams forms part of a USA squad which will play an historic fixture against Cuba on Friday – their first friendly meeting in almost 60 years.
Despite Hurricane Matthew hitting Florida and the Caribbean in recent days, the fixture is scheduled to go ahead as planned.
The USMNT haven’t visited the island for a non-competitive fixture since the 1940s. But Jurgen Klinsmann has selected Royals man Williams – who could make his first US appearance since May, with the final stage of World Cup qualifying right around the corner – to take part in this groundbreaking trip.
Their upcoming exhibition games are part of their continuing preparations for the final stage of World Cup qualifying, which begins next month with tough outings against Mexico and Costa Rica. After meeting Cuba on Friday (kick-off 9pm BST) they return to Washington D.C. for a friendly game with New Zealand, which kicks off in the small hours of Wednesday morning UK time.
27-year-old Williams is one of the more senior players in a USA squad which includes a couple of potential debutants in Molde FK goalkeeper Ethan Horvath and Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch. The Black Cats man is one of four English-based Americans in the selection, alongside Stoke’s Geoff Cameron, Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, and our man Danny.
Earlier this year, president Barack Obama became the first American premier to visit the island in almost a century, and this fixture at Estadio Pedro Marrero – just the third meeting in history between the two nations on Cuban soil – marks another step in the thawing relationship between two nations which are separated by just 90 miles of water in the Straits of Florida.
Cuban-US relations were notoriously frosty throughout the Cold War and the idea of any kind of ‘friendly’ fixture between the near-neighbours was far from likely. So Friday evening’s fixture marks an important sporting step.
The USA’s first visit to Cuba came back in 1947 – and friendly fixture happened to be the first ever meeting between the two nations. The hosts won 5-2 that afternoon… their only victory to date in their 11 meetings.
More recently, in 2008, the two nations were drawn against each other in their qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup – Clint Dempsey’s first-half goal was enough to earn the visitors a win from their trip to Cuba. There wasn’t much of an ‘away end’ at Estadio Pedro Marrero that day… with an embargo by the US government in full force, travel to the island was all but impossible for anything but the most exceptional circumstances. That didn’t prevent five die-hard American supporters – who became known as the ‘Cuba Cinco’ – from stealthily making the trip to get behind their country!
But times have changed; this time around, Williams and the USMNT will be more widely supported. The American Outlaws, the travelling arm of the USA’s support, will be sending a contingent.
Our best wishes go to Danny and his compatriots for their upcoming games!