By Michael Lewis
A national team coach's work is never done, especially when he coaches more than one team.
Despite a trip to CONCACAF Olympic qualifying in Nasvhille, Tennessee, that included two losses and a draw - and only one goal, Cuba manager Raul Triana Gonzalez - also the coach of Cuba's senior team -- didn't really have time to look back. He has to immediately look forward - to World Cup qualifying in June.
And he is encouraged.
"I see a good future," he said.
Gonzalez said that he plans to add seven or eight players from the under-23 team to the full national side. He said he was impressed with goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Heviel Cordoves and striker Felix Guerra.
"They all could do a very good job," he said.
The Cubans' key vulnerability in Olympic qualifying was red cards.
The three games illustrated that.
With the Caribbean side trailing 1-0 the United States in the 20th minute of its tournament opener, Dario Macias was ejected for a foul on Juan Agudelo at midfield. The Americans scored three more goals in the first half en route to a 6-0 victory.
"Playing 70 minutes a man down is very complicated," Gonzalez said.
With Cuba again facing a one-goal deficit to El Salvador in its second match, Carlos Domingo Francisco was expelled in the 49th minute and El Salvador went on to a 4-0 triumph.
"That just ruined the whole game plan," assistant coach William Bennett said. "We have some real young players and they just need to work better on that. It's a learning process."
When Cuba played a full 90 minutes-plus with a full complement of players, the team was competitive, stunning favored Canada with a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Maykel Reyes for a 1-1 draw in its final match.
"We did a couple of changes because of the ejections," Gonzalez said. "I thought we did a very good job against Canada."
The Cubans have for qualified for the Gold Cup each of the last six times, but reached the quarterfinals only once (2003).
It has qualified for each of the past two U-23 finals, but haven't made it out of the first round.
Bennett acknowledged that the Caribbean country produces strong teams in basketball, baseball and boxing, but added that soccer was on the rise.
"But in the years to come, soccer is just right behind baseball and most fans in the stadiums," he said. "That's very good for Cuba."
But there is still much work to be done.
"We need to have better orientation to the athletes that are coming for soccer and are trying to get more education of what they have learned in the different tournaments they have been at," Bennett said. "We need to have some change in the methods that they have been instructing the players to have them in a better spot and in a better position."