(ABOVE) Cuba, shown in 2014 Caribbean Cup action against French Guiana, will have a busy schedule in June and July.
PHILADELPHIA -- Luis Hernandez, president of the Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba, hopes his national team's friendly against the United States' New York Cosmos in June will open the door to more shared sports competitions between the two countries.
On December 17, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, helping to open the door for the game. No American pro team has played in Cuba in 16 years, since the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national baseball team squared off in a home-and-home series.
Hernandez, a member of the Cuban side that played defending champion Poland to a scoreless draw in the opening game of the 1976 Olympic Football Tournament, referred back to 1978, when the Chicago Sting of the original North American Soccer League visited his country.
"Months later the Cuban national team came to the United States," he said after announcement of the CONCACAF Gold Cup schedule Thursday. "So I hope that the same will happen."
Hernandez retired from football a year earlier, so -- from the stands -- he watched the Sting match, which the Cubans won, 2-0.
"It was a heartfelt moment," he said. "It was exciting to see it."
In the return match in Chicago, the teams played to a 1-1 draw.
The Cosmos are scheduled to play in Cuba on June 2. The host will use the match to prepare for a home-and-home series in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against the winner of the Curacao-Montserrat series (March 27 and 31) later in the month.
"The Cosmos are one of the most well-known teams worldwide," Hernandez remarked. "It's a prestige to welcome them to Cuba. It's going to help the development of the Cuban national team."
Hernandez added that the Cosmos match is "going to help a lot. Usually, before going into qualifying, Cuba tries to look for a good rival, for a good opponent and we certainly know we're going to find that in the Cosmos."
So, not surprisingly, the game has made headlines in Cuba as well as in the USA.
"Yes it's been big [for] soccer," Hernandez continued. "The soccer family in Cuba, they know about it. And, of course, they are now talking about the fact now that Cuba and America are trying to fix their relationship. It does impact."
The Cubans were placed in Gold Cup Group C with Mexico (July 9 in Chicago), Trinidad & Tobago (July 12 in Glendale, Arizona) and Guatemala (July 15 in Charlotte, North Carolina).
"Anywhere they put the team, the group, it's going to be a challenge," Hernandez commented. "Mexico will be the toughest rival, but we're ready to take on the task."
Hernandez called the Cuba national selection "a developing team."
"There are veteran players. There are young players," he finished. "The Cuban national team is getting ready for qualifying for the World Cup matches and for the Gold Cup. It's about preparation."