By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Carson, CA (Sports Network) -
Just under two years ago, Chivas USA forward Maykel Galindo was in a Seattle hotel following Cuba's game against Costa Rica when he made a split-second decision that changed his life.
Galindo, a star striker on the Cuban national team, was a alone in a hotel when he made a quick glance left, then right and didn't see anyone. He hurried to an elevator and selected a random floor of the hotel. Eventually, he made his way out of the hotel, went through the parking garage and jumped on a bus.
In those frantic minutes, Galindo decided to defect from Cuba. He hadn't told anyone, not even his family in Cuba.
Starting on that life-changing night in July of 2005, Galindo took the necessary steps toward a better life in the United States. He was granted political asylum in November of 2005, and has since earned his green card.
This February, Galindo returned to the spotlight when he signed with CD Chivas USA in Major League Soccer. Through eight games, Galindo leads Chivas with five goals and also has two assists.
"No one expected a Cuban playing soccer ... but thankfully everywhere I've been so far people have been recognizing me, they've been recognizing my work," Galindo said through a translator following a game at D.C. United.
It was much easier situation for Galindo in the visiting locker room of RFK Stadium in early May when the translator helped him through interviews.
Maykel Galindo took the necessary steps toward a better life in the United States.
Two years earlier, he jumped on that bus and struggled to communicate because he only spoke Spanish. He borrowed the bus driver's cell phone to call Alex Zahajko, a high-school Spanish teacher and the only person he knew in the area. Zahajko helped Galindo in his early days in the U.S.
In a foreign land, without family and just a few friends - including Seattle Mariners shortstop and Cuba native Yuniesky Betancourt - Galindo relied on soccer, one thing he didn't need any translation to be comfortable with.
He signed to play with the Seattle Sounders and spent one-and-a-half seasons playing in the United Soccer League - which is essentially a minor league to MLS. He had the game-tying goal in the 2005 USL championship, which Seattle eventually won on penalty kicks.
Surprisingly, Galindo agreed to return to the team in 2006, but a preseason injury threatened his bright future. In a scary collision with current Chivas teammate Preston Burpo, Galindo was kneed in the face. He still has scars on his face from the collision. He had to have titanium plates implanted to help heal a fractured orbital bone and numerous reconstructive surgeries.
Galindo missed 17 games because of the injuries, but in two seasons played more than 1,000 minutes and had five goals and six assists for the Sounders.
When his chance to play in MLS finally arrived earlier this year, it was Chivas which was lucky enough to land the former Cuban star as a Senior International player.
Although he was relatively quiet in his first two games in MLS, it didn't take long for Galindo to prove he was going to be a major difference for Chivas.
In his third game, Galindo scored two goals in the first nine minutes of a 4-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
"I feel happy. I had been searching for it, I was working really hard because I knew that I needed that first goal in order to take off the pressure and thank God, those goals helped to begin the team's victory," he said. "Since the game began I told myself; when the opportunity comes, I have to finish it and thank God, I made both goals."
In addition to the goals, Galindo assisted on teammate Ante Razov's 100th career goal. Galindo was also named MLS Player of the Week three weeks into his MLS career.
"Galindo made the play, made a great run, laid off an easy ball, just a tap- in," Razov said.
Galindo added his third goal of the season in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United on May 6, but afterward believed he was making strides to becoming a better player almost every day.
"I kept correcting a lot of mistakes," Galindo said. "We've got a lot more games and training sessions ahead to be able to get better every day."
Galindo has scored a goal in each of Chivas' last two games to help the team to a tie against Los Angeles and a 2-0 win over FC Dallas.
Chivas (3-3-2) sits in third place in the Western Division - behind Dallas and Colorado - entering an off week and it's obvious Galindo is one of the biggest reasons why.
It's been a long road from when Galindo was 8-years-old and he started playing in his bare feet in his native Cuba. But it was obvious from the smile on his face in the locker room following the D.C. game, it's all been worth it.