The Cuban Connection

Signing an aging soccer star didn't do the trick. Maybe two stars from Cuba will finally draw some fans to Miami FC bleachers.

He had no idea his lankier teammate would make a similar break for it the next day, aided by his aunt. "I wasn't scared," Faife insists. "I just didn't want to be caught. I had made up my mind."

Their former team lost the U.S. game 6-1, and Cuban media blasted the defectors. "They betrayed the unity of their select team and gave in to the temptations of the empire's money," one newscaster seethed in a bulletin on Cuban television.

But Faife and Alcántara were not exactly lavished with cash and opportunities after their escape. They spent the winter clearing paperwork and auditioning for teams, from MLS squads to the USL's Charleston Battery. They remained unsigned until a two-week tryout with Miami FC in April. "Thank God for Miami FC," Faife likes to say.

The general manager admits the pair's nationality is a public relations perk but insists the wiry, pesky-to-opponents Faife and stocky, natural goal-scorer Alcántara were hired only for their skills. "We've had all types of players on our team — Bolivians, Colombians, Haitians — that you might think would help with attendance," he says. "Do you see those demographics packing the stadiums to watch them? If it was a tie, I might consider their nationality, but with these guys, it wasn't even close."

Though they are celebrities back home, Faife and Alcántara have the lifestyles of foreign-exchange students. They live in guest rooms with cousins: Faife in Coral Gables, Alcántara in South Miami. Without cars, they rely on publicist Gonzalez or other teammates for rides to the stadium and practices.

They are still awaiting U.S. Soccer Federation clearance to play, but the team is confident they will play this Saturday night at Lockhart Stadium against the Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC's fifth game of the season.

Whether their presence will suddenly inspire a Cuban contingent in the bleachers or make the team a contender remains to be seen. The night after the star-struck encounter with Niurka Marco, the Blues hosted Charleston at Lockhart. Faife and Alcántara watched soberly from the stands.

Only 1,504 fans had paid the $12 entrance fee. In the dead center of the bleachers, a noisy crowd of a dozen superfans chanted to the beat of a skin drum and the toots of a kazoo-like horn. Children whacked one another with inflatable noisemakers.

In the 75th minute, a Charleston player headed in the game's only goal. It was Miami's second straight loss. Its record now stands at 2-2.

"Terrible, terrible," said Reinaldo Alvarez, a season ticket holder wearing a faded Miami Fusion jersey and taking sad puffs from a Winston. But in despair, there was hope: "We need the Cubans!"

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