First Scouting Jobs
After signing on the dotted line, it became official. My international management career had begun, and I was the new Cuba manager.
My first port of call was to start scouting players. With over two months of free time, I decided to travel North America, taking in the sights, enjoying the cultures, and then finally watching potential Cuban internationals sit on the bench in a league game.
The scouting mission started off in Montreal, a stark contrast to the sunny Havana I had begun to see as home. So, I packed my hat and scarf, and headed off to the Saputo Stadium to watch Impact notch back to back wins against Colorado and Seattle. The first match was worthwhile viewing, with our left back (and most valuable player) Jorge Luís Corrales playing the full game in a 1-0 win for his side.
The second trip to Montreal’s twenty-thousand seater ground was not so worth my time. Impact were already 3-0 up after seventy-three minutes when our star defender came on. They failed to score after this substitution, perhaps a worrying indictment.
After returning from my Montreal adventure, it was time to travel to Mexico, for a cup match between Atlante and Venados. The away side have Cuban keeper Raiko Arozarena on their books, and this looked like a great chance for him to get some minutes in a lesser competition. Unfortunately, he didn’t even make the bench, and the media were therefore at a loss to explain my attendance at the game.
I must admit, so was I. We made a trip to another Venados match, this time in the Mexican Promotion League. Once again, a wasted trip as our twenty-two-year-old goalie was nowhere to be seen. If I’m being honest I struggled to convince myself that the trip to Mexico was money well spent for the Cuban FA.
Anyway, after these two mildly useful scouting trips, it was the end of August, and time for me to pick my first ever Cuban national squad.
Our first ever Cuba squad selection is really not very different to the squad that was suggested by the coaches. An injury to forty-year-old record cap holder Yénier Márquez saw him lose his place in the squad, but other than that we had no injury issues.
Between the sticks is one of our most competitive position at Cuba. Diosvelis Guerra is the only capped international keeper in the squad. His seventeen appearances for Cuba making him one of the more experienced players in our squad.
However, he does face challenges from a pair of young uncapped goalies, both called up for the first time. Twenty-year-old Christian Joel is valued at three-hundred-thousand pounds, and looks to be one of the best prospects we have. The Sporting Gijón player is joined in the goalkeeping department by Venados third choice stopper (as we found out in Mexico) Raiko Arozarena. The twenty-two-year-old will also be aiming for his first caps during the first international break of our tenure.
We also have tight competition at right back. Three internationals, all mid-twenties, all around three-star current ability. Andy Baquero’s twenty-eight caps makes him the more experienced of the right back options, with eight more international appearances than Yosel Piedra. The least experienced is David Urgellés. The Camagüey defender has made just two appearances for his country, but could be adding to his tally over the next few matches.
In terms of left-backs, we are limited, with just one natural in the position. Thankfully, he happens to be one of our best players, and the man I travelled all the way to Montreal to see. Jorge Luís Corrales has already made thirty-four appearances for Cuba, and is certain to add more to his tally over our first games in charge.
We have three natural options at centre-back. Thirty-seven-year-old Jorge Luis Clavelo is playing his club football in Saudi Arabia, at Al-Faisaly. With an astonishingly terrible 4.90 average rating in his first three games in domestic football, it may be him who misses out on the two spots.
The other two options are Adrián Diz, and Eduardo Vázquez. The latter is a twenty-six-year-old who plays for Cuban club Villa Clara. He looks set to make his first appearance for his country. Diz plays his club football at lower-league US club Tucson. With five appearances, since his move from Portland 2 in the new year, he looks set to add to his thirteen caps during these international fixtures.
In the defensive midfield position, we have two natural members of our squad. The front runner for the place in the team is Daniel Luis. With nineteen caps and one goal for Cuba, the natural Segundo Volante plays for Dominican Republic club side Delfines del Este. His 2019 season has been superb so far, with ten appearances, two assists and an average rating of 7.25.
Battling with him will be experienced international Yasmany Lopez. The Anchor Man has played thirty times for his country, and at thirty-one, will still feel as if he has a role to play in my Cuban setup. With two strong options at defensive midfield (one of them a Segundo Volante), we may be forced to make some big decisions.
In central midfield, Daniel Luis also looks like a strong option. He is joined in the middle of the team by our highest rated CM Carlos Francisco. A natural centre-mid, left-sided midfielder, DM, left-back and left-wing back, Santiago de Cuba’s Francisco will certainly be a crucial player for our squad, and will likely add to his forty-six caps in various different positions over the first few years. Our other centre-midfielders are twenty-eight-year-old Dairon Blanco (of Las Tunas) and twenty-three-year-old Alejandro Portal, who plays his club football at Cienfuegos.
On the wing, we have a large range of options. On the left, we have natural winger Alberto Gómez, the thirty-one-year-old Atlético Vega Real player. His forty-three caps for Cuba will make him a strong and experienced option for us out wide. However, he will face strong competition from twenty-five-year-old inverted left winger Arichel Hernández. With nineteen caps and three goals (one more than Gómez), he is sure to have a part to play in our international setup.
On the opposite side, we also have some dilemmas to face in our first few games. Maikel Reyes, Livan Pérez and Gil Cordovés all represent great options on the right-wing. The latter would be my first choice. The twenty-two-year-old is uncapped, but is having a stellar first season at Venezuelan club side Deportivo Lara. However, a twisted ankle means that he will not be at full fitness for our first game. Fortunately, with two other options on the right side, I should not be caught out there.
Another position crying out for someone to make it their own is that of Cuba’s main striker. A few of our wingers can play there to a degree, but we really have two out-and-out options. Firstly, twenty-seven-year-old Yaudel Lahera has scored two goals in three games for his new club CD Honduras. His sixteen caps make him the more experienced striker in the squad, but with just one goal, he hardly looks to be prolific on the international stage.
The other option is Oklahoma City’s Frank López. One of our more valuable and high rated players, López is still uncapped at twenty-four. However, he looks like the more reliable goal scorer of our two strikers. In seventy career club appearances, he has returned thirty-one goals, for four different American clubs. This suggests that his eye for goal is perhaps more refined than Lahera, and despite his lack of experience, looks to be the safest option up front.
North American Nations League
With our first squad selection analysed, it is time for us to look forward to our first set of international matches. As expected, our September internationals are comprised of one competitive match, in the North American Nations League, and one friendly.
Starting off with the competitive match, we host the USA at the Estadio Pedro Marrero. Perhaps the toughest start imaginable, I really am seeing this game as a barometer, and a chance to see how far away we are from the elite of the continent.
Our second match is a friendly, as we travel to Puerto Rico. Just five places above us in the FIFA World Rankings, this is a team that should give us a tough yet winnable challenge. If we want to progress to become one of the best international sides in North America, we have to be getting one over on teams like Puerto Rico.
After these two matches we have another month off, returning for two National League matches in October.
The next post in the Coaching Cuba series will see us face off against our first two opponents. I will explain the tactic I used, before explaining why it didn’t work and finally, I’ll explain why we lost both matches 11-0.
With confidence that high going into our first few matches, it’s sure to be a dramatic start to our Cuban adventure.
Thank you very much for reading, if you enjoyed this post make sure to look out for the next!