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Two Cuban soccer players defect in Washington

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Cuban soccer players have defected from their national team before the World Cup qualifying game on Saturday night against the United States, Cuban and U.S. media reported.

Cuba’s state television, blaming its “imperial” foe, the United States, said midfielder Pedro Faife, 24, and forward Reynier Alcantara, 26, had “betrayed the unity of their team and given in to the temptation of the empire’s money.

The two players disappeared from their hotel outside Washington before a practice on Friday, the Cuban team’s coach, Reinhold Fanz, told The Washington Post.

“It is always a problem for the Cuba team,” Fanz told the newspaper. “We have security, but you can’t handcuff them to their rooms.”

Defections have plagued Cuban sports, which have lost dozens of top baseball players, boxers and other athletes in recent years, many seeking lucrative careers in the United States, much to the annoyance of Cuba’s communist authorities.

Six members of Cuba’s under-23 soccer team defected during an Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa, Florida, in March.

Only one Cuban soccer defector has made a mark in the United States, Maykel Galindo, playing for Major League Soccer team Chivas USA.

The depleted Cuban team faces the United States at Washington’s RFK Stadium.

The U.S. team won the first World Cup qualifier against Cuba 1-0 last month in Havana. It was the first time in 61 years a U.S. soccer team had played in Cuba.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Peter Cooney