"I left the hotel alone" - Former Cuba star tells us about defecting to USA and launching his MLS career

Maykel Galindo speaks to Team 33 about a life-changing decision in 2005

Chivas USA, Maykel Galindo,

Chivas USA's Maykel Galindo celebrates after scoring a goal against D.C. United during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Carson, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Branimir Kvartuc)

In 2005, then-Cuban football international striker Maykel Galindo walked out of his national team's hotel in the USA and defected.

Eleven years on and at 35, he has completed a career that saw him play in Major League Soccer with Chivas USA and FC Dallas, as well as Seattle Sounders during the latter's United Soccer League days in the mid-2000s.

He has also become involved in radio in California, where he has broadcasted on a soccer show called De Goal A Goal on W 690 Radio.

Only this year was Galindo able to return to Cuba to see his family for the first time since his departure.

"When I defected, I took a bus in Seattle. I left the hotel alone. I didn't know anyone," he told us on Newstalk's Team 33 this week as he discussed the events of 2005, growing up in Cuba and Major League Soccer.

"I have to be grateful to one family in Seattle. They are the ones who took me in from the street."

They proved helpful in taking those first steps, like bringing him to the police station in order to get the process of staying in the United States officially started. 

You can listen to the full Team 33 interview with Maykel on the podcast player below or stream on iTunes:

Galindo also explained why he hadn't told a single person about his plan to defect before leaving Cuba, before touching on the phonecall home once he had defected.

"I made my decision when I went to United States and thought 'I'm not going back to Cuba'. I remember when I called my Mum, I said 'Mum, I'm not going back. I'm going to stay here, fighting'. She's crying but at the end of the day, she said 'You're my son, you're going to be alone over there. Take care, we support you with whatever you do'. And it's been almost 12 years," he said, also explaining that he did return to his homeland this year to see his family for the first time in over a decade.   

Given how culturally tied Miami, Florida is to  Cuba and the fact he had some contacts there, Galindo had thought seriously about making his way there.

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But the father of family who had helped him was also the one who got in touch with Seattle Sounders which eventually got Galindo on the US soccer ladder.

"Right away, they said 'we want to see Maykel Galindo practicing with us,'" he said, having had a pedigree of 12 goals in 35 international matches for Cuba between 2002 and 2005.

He also touched on football's place in a Cuba that has long heralded baseball as its number one sport as well as talking about the impact European stars like David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Andrea Pirlo have made by moving to MLS.