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Cuba national soccer team defectors surface with Battery

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DANIEL ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Soccer is a game of speed, patience and quick decision making. It's those same skills that also allowed three Cuban national soccer team players to make a daring escape from a 2012 World Cup qualifying match in Canada, eventually surfacing in Charleston to play for the Battery. 

"It all started playing on Cuban national team," said Heviel Cordoves, through a translator. "We went to Toronto to play the Canadian national team."

Cordoves, Maikel Chang-Rameriz and Odisnel Cooper had been planning a month prior to the match.

Always in secret, never aloud, the goal was to escape to the United States just before their World Cup Qualifier in October.

"We were really nervous at first getting out of the hotel," said Chang-Rameriz. "That was the biggest part because we saw the coaching staff and any little chance we got when they looked away, we were gone."

The trio got their chance during a lunch break. When the coaches turned away the three took off running.

"The risk is really big in Cuba if you get caught trying to escape," said Cordoves. "I would be taken off national team and pretty much be put in jail."

Understanding the risk, Chang-Rameriz says they ran through the streets of Toronto until they met a random man on the sidewalk who let them use his cell phone and gave them money for a cab.

Cordoves says after a few days the found themselves at the border, feet away from American soil.

Under the 'Wet foot, dry foot policy,' set in place during the Clinton Administration, any Cuban who steps on U.S. soil has the right to become a resident.

The policy is one they were all familiar with.

The trio marveled at the defection of Battery legend and now top MLS midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in 2008 under similar circumstances.

Now it was their turn.

After the trio crossed the border they made their way to Jacksonville, Florida by bus then they scored a tryout in Charleston with the Battery.

"It was nervous at first coming in with the team and trying out," says Chang.

The tryout was all the three men needed. Battery Head Coach Michael Anhaeuser says he knew from the minute they stepped on the pitch they would play for the squad.

"Everything went great from the soccer side," said Anhaeuser. "There was the issue with communication but they did a great job."

All three players have work permits and are making progress in getting their U.S. citizenship.

The goal for all the defectors is the top tier of what soccer can offer, a spot on an Major League team or a contract overseas in Europe.

Cooper left his wife behind in Cuba, but says she will be able to make the trip to be with him as soon as he becomes a citizen.

Chang-Rameriz and Cordoves are both sending money home to their families and girlfriends, trying to help them as make as possible from Charleston.

What they make in the U.S. is much different than what they made in their home country. Cordoves says the average salary for a Cuban footballer is roughly eight dollars a month.

The forward says after their recent defection, the count is up to 25 players of the Cuban national team to have escaped to the U.S.

"It's a dream come true," said Cordoves. Cooper and Chang-Ramierz agree.

The Charleston Battery kick off their home schedule on April 20 versus Antigua Barracuda FC.

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