Players missing from Cuba's women's soccer team reportedly may have defected during Canada trip

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Two players missing from Cuba's women's soccer team for its final game at an Olympic qualifying tournament in British Columbia reportedly may have defected from the Caribbean nation.

The Vancouver Sun, citing unconfirmed reports, says star forward Yesenia Gallardo Martinez, 20, and midfielder Yisel Rodriguez Llanes, 22, have defected from Cuba while playing Olympic qualifying matches in Vancouver. Both women were listed as absent from the team for Cuba's game Monday night against Haiti at BC Place.

“Per policy, we can confirm that we’ve heard the same reports regarding the missing Cuban players,” CONCACAF spokesman Ben Spencer told the newspaper in an email. “However, it is now a matter for the Canadian authorities and the Cuban Delegation and we are not commenting further.”

Bill Brown, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told the agency could not comment on the matter due to privacy legislation.

Jesus Pereira, the head of the Cuban soccer delegation at the tournament, declined to stop to answer questions from reporters after Monday's game. Pereira, the coaches and players headed directly to the team bus, again declining questions through a CONCACAF spokesman.

Gallardo is one of Cuba's top players, playing in every minute of the team's first two games at the tournament. Rodriquez also started both games. Cuba lost all three games at the tournament and failed to qualify for the London Olympics.

Cuban soccer players have a history of defecting during tournaments on the North American mainland. Seven members of the men's Under-23 team defected during a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa, Fla., in 2008, and men's national team player Yosniel Mesa defected last year after a game in Charlotte, N.C., during the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

If Martinez and Llanes did indeed defect, it would be the first time female Cuban soccer players have defected to a country outside of the United States, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click to read more on this report from the Vancouver Sun.