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Its offical: New York Cosmos will head to Cuba in June for historic soccer match

Its offical: New York Cosmos will head to Cuba in June for historic soccer match

Posted by Juan Gavasa on March 17, 2015

The New York Cosmos, led by Spanish legend Raúl González, will become the first U.S. professional sports team to play in Cuba since Washington and Havana agreed three months ago to restore relations after a gap of 54 years.

"I for one have always believed in the power of sport to bring people together and to bring down barriers. I am very fortunate that throughout my career I have been able to witness many of these instances firsthand," club chairman Seamus O'Brien said Monday during a press conference in New York.

"We are therefore honored to be the first professional team in sports to visit Cuba since President Obama's historic opening of diplomatic relations," he said at the announcement of the Cosmos' June 2 friendly match against the Cuban national team.

The last time an American sports team traveled to Havana for a game was March 1999, when Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles faced off against Cuba's national squad.

"We hope the Cosmos can once again be a leader for New York, and New York business, and help create further opportunities in the future," O'Brien said.

"The club has a history of traveling overseas, opening doors," said the chairman of the Cosmos, the flagship franchise of the North American Soccer League club during its first incarnation, from 1970-1985, as the top flight of professional soccer in the United States and Canada.

In their heyday, the original Cosmos boasted a roster that included international superstars such as Pelé and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, but with the retirement of those figures, the club and the league foundered, shutting down in 1985.

The Cosmos were re-founded in 2011 as part of the resurrected NASL, now the second division of soccer in North America, one step down from Major League Soccer.

The big attraction of the 2015 edition of the team is Raúl, who led Real Madrid to six La Liga titles, four Spanish Super Cups and three UEFA Champions League titles, while scoring 44 goals in 102 appearances for the Spanish international squad from 1996-2006.

Reflecting the political significance of the match in Havana, New York area congressmen Charles Rangel and Gregory Meeks were on hand for Monday's press conference.

"This is historic, not just for you sports fans, but for those who are looking ahead to see what kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren," Rangel said.

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