On Tuesday afternoon the Fort Lauderdale Strikers announced the signing of Cuban forward Yaikel Pérez for the remainder of the 2013 NASL season.
Pérez played for local team Ciudad de Habana growing up in Cuba and impressed coaches enough to earn a call up to the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The striker was on the Gold Cup squad along with Lester Moré, Maykel Galindo, Pedro Faife, and Reysander Fernández who have all since defected to the United States. Defection is an ugly word held over from the heated political exchanges between the United States and Cuba during the Cold War. The unique political situation of the two countries presents an opportunity for Cuban migrants to receive a work permit to work in the States more easily than other undocumented immigrants from Latin America.
Pedro Faife and Reiner Alcántara both joined Miami FC, a precursor to the modern Strikers, after they left the national team during a World Cup Qualifying match in 2008. Five players who left Cuba’s u23 team during qualification for the 2008 Olympics trained with Miami FC, but none were given contracts at the time.
Pérez signed with Miami FC in 2006 but only stayed in southern Florida for a single season. After leaving Miami FC, he bounced around amateur and minimally professional teams in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In 2012 the Cuban forward moved to El Salvador where he established some consistency with Alianza F.C. and also played for CD Aguila. On August 13, NASL club Fort Lauderdale Strikers announced they had reached an agreement for Pérez for the rest of the 2013 season. The Strikers have 12 games left in the season and 6 of those are at home in Lockhart Stadium.
Some may criticize the team for signing a player in what may be an attempt to pander to a large Cuban population in southern Florida. There might be some merit in those criticisms since Pérez has not exactly lit up the field in his journeyman career (the Strikers are his 10th team in 8 years). However, Pérez may have hit his stride recently in El Salvador and simply needed the interceding years to make up for the lack of development he received in his native Cuba.