TAMPA, Fla. – Five Cuban soccer players went missing Tuesday night after the under-23 team played a key match against the United States, a team official said Wednesday.
The missing men had not yet reported to authorities.
Zachary Mann, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said it's unlikely the agency will learn the men's whereabouts until they come forward. The players likely would be granted political protection under the United States' "wet foot, dry foot" policy that typically allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay.
The Cuban team is in Tampa to play in qualifying games for the Beijing Olympics this August, sponsored by the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF.
A CONCACAF spokesman declined comment, saying only that the situation is under review.
The five men, including a goalie and team captain who helped Cuba tie the United States 1-1 Tuesday, are expected to be in Miami by this weekend, said Marcos Ommati, a spokesman with professional soccer team Miami FC.
He said he had not spoken with the players and did not know their whereabouts, but said he had spoken with someone who told him to expect the players.
CONCACAF and team officials did not identify the five missing players. But looking at players' jerseys Wednesday's practice revealed those who were absent: Jose Manuel Miranda, 21; Erlys Garcia Baro, Yenier Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto, all who are listed as 22-years old.
Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the agency had not received any missing persons reports from the team, and officers were not called to the team's hotel to investigate the disappearances.
A Cuban team leader would not discuss details and said he was most concerned about Thursday's match against Honduras.
"Tomorrow we have a very important game ... and we are concentrating on that," said Luis Hernandez, president of the Soccer Association of Cuba and the only team official to address the media.
When asked what the team planned to do without the players, Hernandez said simply, "Win — with the five, without the five — win."