Cuba’s Golden Ball Winner of 2013 – Ariel Martinez

The excerpts were originally published in Spanish by Mario Lara on Fútbol Cubano. The full article can be read in its entirety here.

Cuba’s Golden Ball Winner for 2013: Ariel Martínez

A nuestro entender el jugador espirituano es el mejor jugador del año en Cuba, jugador inteligente, rápido con una gran gambeta y buen disparo con ambas piernas, Ariel se convirtió este año en un jugador vital para sus equipos. Con sus tres goles, de los cuatro en total que marcó Sancti Spíritus, en la Primera Vuelta del Campeonato Nacional, mantuvo las esperanzas yayaberas de clasificar para el Torneo de Clausura hasta la última jornada. Adoptado por el Expreso de Villa Clara se fue abriendo de a poco un paso en el once inicial, hasta convertirse con sus goles y asistencias en el jugador Más Valioso del cuadro Naranja en las semifinales y Finales camino a la obtención de su décimo tercera corona.
Convocado a la selección que participó en la Copa de Oro en Estados Unidos, Ariel fue sin duda de lo más remarcable en los dos primeros partidos de Cuba, en los que sumó una asistencia, antes de su apoteósico desempeño frente al conjunto de Belice encaminando con un triplete (primer cubano en lograr un Hat Trick en dicha competición) el pase de Cuba a los Cuartos de Final del Torneo por segunda vez en su historia.

“In our view, the player from Sancti Spíritus is the year’s best player in Cuba. An intelligent player, fast with a great dribble and a good shot with both feet, Ariel became a vital player for his club and national team this year.

With his three goals, of the four total that FC Sancti Spíritus scored, in the First Round of the National Championship, he sustained the hopes of the yayaberas [people from the region] to quality for the Torneo de Clausura until the last matchday.

Brought in by FC Villa Clara, he slowly stepped up into the starting eleven, until with his goals and assists he became the MVP of the orange squad in the semifinals and finals on the road to lifting its thirteenth crown.

Called up to the national team that participated in the Gold Cup in the United States, Ariel was without doubt the most remarkable player. Notching an assist in the first two games for Cuba, before his tremendous performance against the Belizean contingent routing them with a triple (the first Cuban to score a Hat Trick in this competition) propelling Cuba into the Quarterfinals of the tournament for only the second time in its history.”

Silver Ball: Osvaldo Alonso

Otro gran año para el muchacho de San Cristóbal, a pesar de haberse perdido varios partidos por lesión, Ozzie volvió a ser seleccionado, cuarta vez consecutiva, como el Jugador Más Valioso de su equipo. Osvaldo fue la figura clave dentro del mediocampo del Sounders en su carrera hasta los play off de la MLS, en los que marcó el único gol de su equipo.
Ozzie se convirtió además en el primer jugador en la historia de su equipo en llegar a 110 partidos como titular y más de diez mil minutos jugados.
En total Ozzie jugó este año 26 partidos de Liga, acumulando 2179 minutos, acumulando un 88 porciento de efectividad en sus pases, el más alto en la MLS, y su equipo ganó 45 de los 52 puntos en disputa cuando Alonso fue titular.

“It was another great year for the boy from San Cristóbal. Despite having missed several matches through injury, Ozzie was once again named the MVP of his club team, the fourth consecutive time.

Osvaldo was the key figure in the center of midfield for the Seattle Sounders in their run into the MLS Playoffs, in which he scored the only goal for his team at home in the Conference Semifinals.

Ozzie also became the first player in his team’s history to reach 110 games as a starter and log more than 10,000 minutes played. In total Ozzie played 26 league games this year, amassing 2179 minutes with 88% passing accuracy, the best in MLS, and his team won 45 of 52 possible points when Alonso was a starter.”

Bronze ball: Odisnel Cooper

Pudiera sorprender a algunos la nominación de San Cooper como el tercer integrante del podio, pero el muchacho de Guernica, hizo a nuestro entender méritos para esta nominación. Cooper fue nominado como el Novato del Año en su equipo y con grandes actuaciones bajo los tres palos ayudó a su equipo el Charleston Battery a llegar hasta las semifinales de la USL-pro.
En su primer año como profesional, en una Liga Muy fuerte físicamente y jugada a la vieja ultranza inglesa con delanteros fuertes y mucho forcejeo en el área, Cooper, con sólo 21 años, demostró una gran personalidad y seguridad que pronto le granjearon respeto entre los curtidos jugadores rivales.
Fue además el gran protagonista en las victorias de su equipo contra el Houston Dinamo, en la Copa de la Carolinas y el San José Earthquakes en la Copa de los Estados Unidos.
Estadísticamente hablando, Cooper participó en 22 juegos en los que acumuló 1980 minutos (séptimo entre los arqueros), fue sexto en menos goles recibido con 24, lo que le sirvió para ser el tercer portero con mejor promedio de goles en contra con un 1.090, tercero igualmente con másvictorias (11), así como cuarto en más partidos sin recibir goles en contra (7), recibiendo en total 144 de los cuales sus tenazas evitaron 50 veces que estos terminaran en sus redes.

“The inclusion of “Saint Cooper” as the third member of the podium could surprise some, but the boy from Guernica did enough to merit this nomination in our minds. Cooper was named Newcomer of the Year at his club team and his great performances between the posts helped the Charleston Battery to reach the USL-Pro semifinals.

In his first year as a professional, in a very physical league that is similar to the traditional English style with strong forwards and hard challenges inside the area, at just 21 years old Cooper showed a great personality and assurance that quickly earned him respect from veteran opponents.

He was also the main protagonist his team’s victories against Houston Dynamo, in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup, and against San Jose Earthquakes in the U.S. Open Cup.

Statistically, Cooper played in 22 games in which he accumulated 1980 minutes (seventh among goalkeepers), was sixth in fewest goals against with 24, making him the third best ‘keeper in terms of goals against average with 1.090. He also had the third most wins (11) and fourth most shutouts (7), facing 144 shots during the season and making 50 saves.”

Young Player of the Year – Daniel Luis Sáez

Difícil fue la selección del jugador Juvenil Cubano del año debido a la presencia de varios jugadores con gran talento y méritos para recibir el galardón este año, Dani Luiz fue el artífice en el mediocampo cubano durante el Premundial de Puebla en el cual supo imponer su tremenda presencia física en la labores de recuperación además de mostrarse como el más pulcro de los contenciones cubanos a la hora de salir con el balón y distribuir el juego, además de ser un peligro constante dentro del área en los balones parados, vía por la que consiguió uno de los goles cubanos frente a Nicaragua en ese torneo.
Su impacto llegó además con el Habana en el Campeonato Nacional, durante el breve espacio de tiempo en el que se les permitió a los Sub 20 cubanos participar en este torneo con el que marcó dos goles que le entregaron una victoria y un empate a los azules.

“It was difficult to choose the young Cuban player of the year on account of the presence of several players with great talent and the merits to receive the award this year. Dani Luiz was the architect of the Cuban midfield during the U-20 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Puebla in which he was able to impose his tremendous physical presence while recovering the ball and showed himself as the most clever of players when coming forward with the ball to shift the play. He was also being a constant threat in the area on set pieces, which is how he scored one of Cuba’s goals against Nicaragua in that tournament.

He also made an impact with club side La Havana in the National Championship during the short period of time when he was not training or playing with the Under 20 National Team, Luis scored two goals to give the Blues a win and a tie.”

_________________________________________________________________

I have a few thoughts on these selections.

Ariel Martínez was clearly Cuba’s top performer in the Gold Cup and dozens of MLS fans postulated on social media how the winger could fit into their team if he happened to slip away from the national squad. Though his red card against Panama in the knockout round took some of the gloss off of Ariel’s shine, his otherwise consistently quality performances with the international spotlight earned him a lot of new fans stateside.

Osvaldo Alonso is the most talented Cuban player right now, and has been for several years. Seattle Sounders have rewarded his diligence and tenacity for the club with a big money Designated Player contract in November. While he continues to earn plaudits in Seattle and in the league (3 All-Star team selections in his 5 seasons so far), Alonso is still in national team limbo after receiving U.S. citizenship in 2012.

Odisnel Cooper is a player with a lot of upside. The goalkeeper impressed well physically, and after an adjustment period, showed himself to be a top ‘keeper in his first professional season. As he will be a legal U.S. permanent resident he shouldn’t take up an international spot on a roster (if USL-Pro and NASL follow the some guidelines as MLS) so I’d expect a bit of interest in Saint Cooper during 2014.

Daniel Luis Sáez is a tremendous talent who has shown an ability to take over games from his central midfield position and to excel in several different roles. Luis definitely has a future with the national team program but whether his career will include professional soccer remains a question of Cuban and U.S. policies. The midfielder beat out U-20 teammates goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez, who appears able to blossom into a great player like Cooper and veteran Odelín Molina, and creative forward Maykel Reyes, who dazzled CONCACAF defenses in the WC Qualifying Tournament in Puebla.

If you are interested in Cuban soccer, I urge you to follow Fútbol Cubano for frequent news, analysis, and opinions the beautiful game both on the island and from players abroad.

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