Cuba’s Reyes makes soccer dream a reality

Maikel Reyes (pictured) celebrates after scoring the goal against Guatemala that sealed a place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals for Cuba. (Photo: Mexsport)

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – On a magical night for Cuban soccer, Maikel Reyes realized his childhood dream.Late in the second half of the must-win, Group C finale against Guatemala on Wednesday, Reyes found himself on the receiving end of a beautifully played cross from teammate Alberto Gomez. Fighting off a Guatemalan defender for position on the near post, Reyes then thumped home a diving header, giving his team the lead and sending the Cuban faithful in to a state of pure delirium.You could see what it meant to the 22-year-old as he ripped off his shirt and sped off to the corner flag with teammates in tow. The bench erupted, the fans screamed and -- against all odds – Cuba earned a place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals for a second straight time.“Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of playing for the national team,” said a smiling Reyes after the match. “To be here now and to score a goal like that, I will remember it forever. It was a special moment me and it was a special moment for Cuban soccer.”Though his feat was unquestionably important, it wasn’t the first time that Reyes had shined bright on the big stage. Currently on the books at Pinar Del Rio, Reyes has been at his best in the national team jersey. Especially prolific at the Under-20 level, Reyes found the back of the net three times at the 2013 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and then again at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup.Reyes’ moment of magic brought a happy end to what was a difficult group stage performance for the Leones del Caribe. After losing 6-0 to Mexico in their opener, the Cubans fell short in a 2-0 setback against Trinidad and Tobago. However, despite their early struggles, the Cubans had everything still to play in the meeting with Guatemela. They enthusiastically seized the opportunity.“I’m very happy for our team,” Reyes remarked. “That game meant a lot to my teammates and to our fans. I’m just happy we were able to make them proud.”Next up for Cuba is a high-profile quarterfinal tilt with Group A winner United States in on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.