We pulled aside jovial Vancouver Whitecaps forward and Sancti Spiritus native Eddy Sebrango to talk all things Cuba -- though we stopped short of asking him to salsa. In 2006, Sebrango returned to the Whitecaps, the franchise he started his North American career with in 1999. Bob Lenarduzzi, then Canada's coach, had faced Sebrango's side in a 1996 World Cup qualifier game in Edmonton.
Q. When you moved to Canada you gave up your chance to play for the Cuban national team. How tough was that?
A. Definitely it was tough because you want to play internationally. I am very proud of being Cuban and you want to represent your country, but that is the rule and you cannot change the rule. They say if I want to play for the national team I have to play in the league there. I tried a few years after I was here to go back there, but it was the same answer so that was it. I tried to play for Canada, actually, but FIFA said no because I'd already played at the senior national level for Cuba.
Q. What's life like for a young athlete in the Cuban sport system?
A. It's wonderful. Sport is very organized in Cuba and I was in a sport school since I was 13 years old, all the way through university. When you become a senior player, you get paid as what you [could be]. If you have a degree in physical education as a teacher you get paid as a teacher. Guys who are with the national team, they are in a good situation.
Q. You played in the 1996 World Cup qualifier. Was that the highlight of your days in Cuba?
A. For sure that was exciting. I played really well, had two really good games where I didn't score. Then I scored two goals against Panama and we won 2-1. In '97 I was footballer of the year in the country and that was very special.
Q. Do you follow politics back home fairly closely?
A. If you are Cuban you have to follow. It was time for him [Fidel Castro] to step down. They're trying to change things now, but it's going to take a while. I think it's going to open up a little bit, like freedom to travel and stuff like that, stuff that didn't make any sense. But give credit to Castro. We are still 50 years as a revolution and we were able to manage ourself. Other countries, basically they are afraid to do anything against America. So I am proud to be Cuban for that. We are different. The government takes care of the people. I wish we could have a mix of Canada and Cuba. That would be the perfect society.
Q. After you moved to Canada you didn't go home or see your family for five years. That must have been difficult.
A. I was kind of confused and afraid. Well, not afraid, but I wasn't sure of my status -- maybe something was going to happen. But it wasn't true. I should have gone a long time before. It was unreal [when he finally went back]. Lots of parties. No sleep. My house full of people. Five years is a lot of time.
Q. You always seem to be smiling and laughing. Do you have Cuba to thank for that as well?
A. Why not [be happy]? You can always make somebody's day with a smile or a comment or a joke. And that's the way Cuba is. Very social. I'm also 35 years old. I've paid my dues. I was young, I was quiet, and now it's my time to enjoy. I joke, I laugh, but at the same time I work hard. Hopefully I can still be like that when I'm 70.
© The Vancouver Province 2008