September 5, 2008
By Michael Lewis
'IT'S JUST SURREAL'
U.S. players marvel over 'mythical' place
Havana -- When he first heard the U.S. National Team was to play a World Cup qualifying match in Cuba, defender Danny Califf was hoping he would be selected for the team.
|Danny Califf: "It's kind of a mysterious land for Americans and for me. But I heard that the've got old cars and stuff like that. . . . I really felt like I stepped out of a time machine."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
"I was excited," he said Friday after practice at Estadio Pedro Marrero. "I was hoping to be part of the game to be here and be apart of it and to see a place that is mythical."
U.S. midfielder-forward Landon Donovan wasn't surprised on the little he had seen in his first two days.
"I didn't have many pre-conceived notions," he said. "I think its mostly what you expect from a Caribbean island country. The people have been fantastic. Everybody is very friendly and it seems they are very excited for us to be here."
Due to the U.S. embargo and the lack of communication between the two countries, many U.S. citizens don't know much about this Caribbean island.
"You know, I really didn't know what the expect, to tell you the truth," Califf said. "It's kind of a mysterious land for Americans and for me. But I heard that the've got old cars and stuff like that. . . . I really felt like I stepped out of a time machine. It's just surreal. The buildings and the cars and just how everything is."
Califf bought some white Cuban shirts for his son and daughter as several players ventured into Old Havana.
"It was a huge market," he said. "People were hawking things everywhere. There was some amazing art there and a lot of cool things that I wish we could bring back."
According to U.S. regulations, Americans can bring back education material, books and art. Cigars, of course, are forbidden. Each citizen is allowed to spend about $180 a day.
The U.S. team's hotel is on the off the water. But there there wasn't enough time to check out the waves for defender-midfielder Frankie Hejduk, an avid surfer, to take advantage of it in his short stay here.
"It's very beautiful," he said of Cuba. "The water's beautiful.
"No, I haven't seen a wave. I don't think Bob [Bradley would] want to hear of [that] . . . I was hoping there would be some leftover waves from the hurricane. It's pretty flat."
If the U.S. winds up qualifying for the Cup, Hejduk could be rewarded if the Americans wind up playing in Cape Town near the Cape of Good Hope, where the surf is up all the time.
But the players know they are in Cuba for a reason -- not to be tourists but to win a soccer game.
"I understand the signficance of the fact here we are Americans coming into Cuba to play a game," Califf said. "More than anything we are concentrating on the game. It is a little difficult to remove yourself a little for all of the other reasons why we're here."
Not many players were about to shake the status quo when they spoke to the media after practice at Estadio Pedro Marrero Friday evening.
"It's as same as any game," Hejduk said. "I try to take every game the same. Everyone is a professional. Everyone has to take the game as serious as possible. It doesn't matter who it is against.
"At the end of the day its about qualifying for the World Cup, not the individual teams we have to beat for the World Cup."