"I Want to be Free"

I don't normally post links to Steven Goff's stuff.

First of all, he hardly needs traffic from the likes of me, and anyway, I figure most people automatically check his blog as a matter of their daily internet routine, someplace in between the weather, TeenHotties.com and looking in on how badly their 401k is tanking.

But I'll make an exception for TODAY'S PIECE ON THE CUBAN DEFECTORS who hit the bricks while the Cuban National team was in DC.

Not because it's a preemptive strike against all the halfwits - some of them rather well-known writers - who were roundly critical of USSF last Spring over this same issue, feeling that they "needed to provide more security" to help the Cuban security police keep these guys under wraps.

The day the United States Soccer Federation hires armed men to treat foreign athletes like prisoners is the day I will personally invite you to join me in the storming and razing of Soccer House.

And it's certainly not because this guy is going to be the latest Maykel Galindo-type MLS success story, since the the last bunch of Cuban soccer players who hotfooted it out of the team hotel proved conclusively that it's a dicey proposition at best.

And while strolling out the front door of a hotel and hopping into a cab lacks the drama of swimming the Elbe at midnight while dodging rounds from a Soviet PKMS, it's nevertheless one hell of a gutsy leap of faith.

But even those of us - in contrast to way too many soccer writers - who admire and applaud any man's thirst for individual freedom are left with a nagging fragment of ambiguity lurking in the back of our minds.

From the first time we stood on some scraggly grass patch behind a church or a middle school wearing a pair of 19 pound shinguards and unscuffed plastic soccer cleats as some old guy with five o'clock shadow told us he was our "coach", there's been one rule above all others that we've been told was the ultimate value, the one inviolate principle of soccer:

It's all about the team.

And of course telling some Nicaraguan illegal in a yellow Impala to "go,go,go" is the ultimate abrogation of that principle. Hitting the streets is all about you.

Your teammates, many if not most of them old and valued friends, who you left sitting in hotel rooms from which Castro's thugs have conspicuously removed the telephones, are unquestionably going to get their faces handed to them in about 24 hours by the US National team and you're going to be sitting in a cheap motel someplace watching them on TV.

I can't imagine anything tougher.

Watching the face of Yoel Colome as he was escorted from the field after receiving a red card, seeing his agony at having to leave his teammates to face a hopeless task without him, was the other side of the same coin.

Loving your country and your teammates and your sport is like any other love affair: it's hard to stay, it's hard to go. And you're left in awe at the amount of character it takes to make either choice.