New FC Edmonton keeper Ramos wants to keep representing Cuba, but can’t

Andy Ramos didn’t defect. He didn’t slip away before a national-team game. He didn’t ask for asylum.

Ramos, FC Edmonton’s newest addition to the goalkeeper fold, wants to play for Cuba again. He loved representing his country in World Cup qualifiers. He relished the chance to play in a 1-1 draw against Panama. He was the back-up when Canada beat Cuba in Havana last year in World Cup qualifying.

But he knows he will likely never play for his country again.

“I am not going to get a call back,” Ramos said through a translator (FC Edmonton teammate Martin Nunez) after a training session at the Commonwealth Fieldhouse Tuesday. “That’s because I am playing professionally here. Once you play professionally in a league outside of Cuba, you cannot play for the national team.”

Ramos was allowed to come to Canada after going through a lot of paperwork. His mother moved to Canada and remarried; Ramos’s stepfather and mom live in the Ottawa area.

Ramos, like all Cuban prospects, needs some refinement. FCE Director of Soccer Joe Petrone said the club looks at him as a long-term prospect. If he can jump in and take some starts away from incumbents John Smits or Lance Parker, fine. But the tall keeper, who turned 22 this week, is being given a long leash so he can develop his game.

Before going to the senior squad, Ramos represented Cuba at various youth levels.

“I have a lot of experience, I played a lot of international games for Cuba. I know that will help me here. Cuba has a lot of talent, and a lot of the players dream of playing outside of the country.

“My dream is to play again for Cuba.”

In a qualifier last year at BMO Field, defections left the Cuban squad with just 11 players for its game against Canada. The Cubans had no players on the subs bench.

And this is the issue. Ramos proves that not all Cubans who leave the country want to cut all ties with the country. Some have political reasons. For a player like Ramos, there are family reasons and the wish to play club football outside of Cuba. But some would still play for their country, to help it improve in CONCACAF.

Canadians who go to Havana find a city that, while crumbling — except for the wonderfully preserved old, historic section of town, which is immaculate — has a lot of charm. Cubans don’t have much, but are generous. They offer foreigners their places in line; they are willing to share the little that they have. And, being so close to America — and being able to get all the TV and radio from Miami that they’d ever want — they understand their political situation and are very savvy. It’s an easy country to be proud to call home, despite its unique transition from dictatorship to Communism.

And, when it comes to national pride, politics are often irrelevant. Cuba would do well to allow players like Ramos to remain in the national-team fold — simply because it’s the right thing to do.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.