Cuban Defector Alonso: ‘My Dream Is Coming True’
A Walmart, of all places, the embodiment of Americana and commercialism, is where Cuban soccer player Osvaldo Alonso found freedom five and a half years ago. He will never forget that terrifying, lonely afternoon, and says it has driven him to become the three-time Most Valuable Player of the Seattle Sounders.
Alonso was the captain of the Under-23 Cuban national team. From the moment he heard the team was traveling to the United States in June 2007 to play in the Gold Cup tournament, he began dreaming of defecting. His lifelong ambition was to be a professional soccer player, and he knew he would not get that opportunity as long as he stayed on the island. Also pulling him was his girlfriend and now his wife, Liang Perez, who had left for Miami in 2004.
While in Houston preparing for the game against Honduras, the Cuban team went on a shopping spree at the local Walmart. Alonso stuffed a zip-up jacket and $700 in his backpack. He had been saving up the money in anticipation of his getaway. When his teammates and coaches were distracted in the electronics and clothing departments, Alonso, then 21, distanced from them and walked out the door. Looking over his shoulder, he walked briskly for 10 to 12 blocks, not knowing where he was going or what his future had in store.
“I was very, very scared they were going to catch me,” said Alonso, who was in Miami last week to promote the upcoming Major League Soccer season, which begins in March. “But I just kept going. This was my one chance at freedom, and once I decided to do it, I wasn’t going to change my mind.”
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