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Yuni’s pal Maykel Galindo June 30, 2008

Posted by Brad in commentary, news.
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Yuniesky Betancourt is good friends with Cuban defector soccer player Maykel Galindo. This is a story that’s been widely reported, but I was completely unaware of until the Mariners’ website posted a story on the two reconnecting in Los Angeles. Here now, is a timeline of Yuni and Maykel:

January 28, 1981: Maykel Galindo is born , one year and three days before Yuni. Both are born and grow up in Villa Clara.

1991-1992: Yuni and Maykel allegedly first meet and become friends.

1994: Maykel leaves Villa Clara to train for soccer in Havana.

2003: Yuni defects on a speedboat (or so the story goes).

July 9, 2005: After scoring his country’s lone goal in a 3-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup loss against Costa Rica in Seattle, Galindo defects from Cuba. ESPN’s Andrew Winner tells the story best:

He found himself alone in the team hotel. The otherwise omnipresent team chaperones were nowhere in sight. Galindo looked left and right and saw space.

At that moment, Galindo made the snap decision to leave his team and try to defect.

He pressed a button for a random floor of the hotel, made his way out of the hotel through the parking garage and jumped onto a Metro bus outside the hotel.

Frantically trying to communicate in Spanish, he used the driver’s cell phone to dial the only local phone number he had — to one of the team’s Seattle-based liaisons, a high school Spanish teacher named Alex Zahajko. Zahajko picked Galindo up and, not long after, helped him contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Galindo then announced his intention to defect.

Wow. That’s probably a bit less daring than a speedboat, but relying on the kindness of a Metro bus driver AND a high school Spanish teacher takes a bit of guile and charm.  Zahajko just so happened to play in a rec soccer league with Adrian Hanauer, one of the owners of the Seattle Sounders, and helped get Galindo a tryout with the team.

July 28th, 2005: Yuni makes his debut with the Seattle Mariners.  Shortly thereafter, Yuni and Galindo reconnect. Here’s a quote from Yuni on that meeting:

“It was just like always, especially when you first come here, you don’t know anybody and you don’t have your family… You stick with each other, and give each other a hug, and start reminiscing about old times.”

September 9, 2005: Galindo makes his debut with the Seattle Sounders in a game against the Montreal Impact.  Two weeks later, he’d score his first goal for the Sounders, also against the Impact

October 1, 2005: In the USL Championship, Galindo scores an equalizer goal that helps send the game into penalty kicks.  The Sounders win on PKs, 4-3.  Maykel fist pounds Roger Levesque at some pointFans wave their signs.  Yuni attends the game.  Maykel says, “He attended that game, and it was very beautiful for me to have this guy [there] that I spent my childhood with.”

May 7, 2006:  The awesomely-named goalie Preston Burpo, Galindo’s once-and-future teammate, knees Galindo in the face.  Burpo get a yellow card, but Galindo gets a cheekbone fracture and can’t play again until July.

August 23, 2006: Galindo throws out the first pitch at a Mariners game.  Yuni catches it.  That had to be a nice moment.  The Mariners are then crushed by the Yankees, 9-2.  Yuni does get an RBI single, though.

September 9, 2006: Galindo finishes his injury-shortened season with 4 goals and four assists in 9 games.  That’s a lot of scoring for soccer.

February 17, 2007: Galindo moves up to Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA.  Playing in Southern California opens up new opportunities for Galindo, like living in Torrance and getting to do photo-ops with Nomar Garciaparra.

April 7, 2007: After just a few games in the MLS, The Offside declares Galindo “the fastest man in the MLS.”  I’m not sure if Yuni is the ______est anything in baseball.  Maybe the Awesomest Shortstop Nicknamed Rikimbilli.  Yuni wins that contest hands down.

July 19, 2007: Galindo’s Chivas USA gets spanked by the (lower league) Sounders 3-1 in the US Open Cup.

October 2007: Galindo leads Chivas USA with 12 goals in the regular season, and wins the team’s Golden Boot, which sounds kind of harsh, but is actually soccer-speak for MVP or best scorer.

June 11, 2008: Galindo has a second hernia surgery (his right groin’s been hurting), and is not likely to suit up again until August. (Does the MLS have disabled/inactive list?)

June 27, 2008: Galindo last logs onto his ridiculous, flash-filled MySpace page.  His current mood is “stressed.”  Hernia surgeries will do that to you.

In summation, Maykel Galindo’s been profiled on ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and The Beautiful Game.  He’s a legit (North American) pro soccer player, and occasionally hangs out with Yuniesky Betancourt.  I wish him all the best.

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