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Derrick Etienne: “It was more than a game for the Haitian people”
The Haiti and Canada teams line up to listen to national anthems before the Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal match on June 30, 2019, at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Concacaf)
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MIAMI, Florida – This Friday at 7:00 PM ET, Concacaf will be airing a re-broadcast of two Concacaf Gold Cup classics, the first being the 2013 Gold Cup group stage match between Panama and Mexico, followed by the 2019 Gold Cup quarterfinal between Haiti and Canada. Both matches will be shown on Concacaf’s Facebook and YouTube pages, plus the Concacaf App.

Haiti’s journey to the 2019 Gold Cup semifinals was one to remember, as Les Grenadiers reached the final four of the Gold Cup for the first time in their history, while becoming the fourth Caribbean nation to earn a place in that stage of the tournament.

Yet the foundation of Haiti’s great Gold Cup success in 2019 took root in March 2017 when Haiti narrowly lost the Gold Cup playoff for the 2017 edition to Nicaragua.

“A lot of us were disappointed about missing out on qualifying for the previous Gold Cup, so we took our approach through qualifying very seriously and I think that showed because were finished in top place in qualifying,” said Haiti MF Derrick Etienne in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.

A familiar trend developed during the 2019 Gold Cup for the Haiti team, as they quickly became the comeback kings of the tournament by rallying for wins in the second half against Bermuda (2-1) and Costa Rica (2-1) in the group stage, followed by Canada in the quarterfinals (3-2).

“We knew that if we wanted to win the group, we had to get off to a good start, so we were able to come back against Bermuda. In the third game versus Costa Rica, I think we gave them too much respect at first so we just pushed the envelope, pressing high and trying to create situations to win the ball and attack and we were able to do that. Against Canada, it was the same thing. As a group we went down on goals that were mistakes, but we felt that we had chances we should have capitalized on. I give credit to the group for never panicking. Because of our belief, we kept our heads cool and in big moments we felt like we were always going to have guys step up,” said Etienne.

The importance of staying calm was on display in the halftime locker room during the quarterfinal against Canada in which Haiti found themselves down 2-0.

“Haitian people are proud people and we show a lot of emotion, so after that initial reaction of saying it wasn’t good enough, that calmness settled in and guys started saying that we’ll get our chances, that Canada has their weak points and we have to capitalize. We had nothing to lose, so we just went out there and pushed,” said Etienne.

The 3-2 comeback victory got the attention of everyone in the region, and especially the Haiti fans back home, who took to the streets to celebrate the historic achievement by their beloved national team. Seeing the images of the Haitian people singing and dancing in the streets made Etienne and his teammates beam with pride.

“It means so much to the guys. We know that whenever Haiti is in a tournament, the nation is on pause, no matter what’s going on there. We know that they are watching and we take that to heart. We feel like if we go out there and give it our all, the fans will appreciate it. As the tournament wore on, we started understanding that this was more than a game, that we are playing for more than ourselves, that we are playing for the people at home. When we won the Canada game and saw how the country was out and about enjoying themselves, we felt really proud about that, so we just wanted to push on and give them something to cheer because the situation in Haiti is not the best. Anything we can do to take the focus off the problems, we wanted to give the people a break and let them enjoy themselves, so it meant a lot,” said Etienne.

Haiti’s dream run in last summer’s Gold Cup came to an end in the semifinals with a narrow 1-0 loss to Mexico in extra time. Despite the heartbreak of barely missing out on the Final, Etienne, whose father also played for the Haitian National Team, looks back on that month with great fondness and is even more motivated to make more history with the national team.

“Personally, it means a lot to me. I remember when my grandfather found out that I was going to be representing Haiti, he cried. And seeing pictures of my dad with the national team and the respect he has within Haiti for his time with the national team, it meant so much to me. I felt like we made history and were able to enjoy it, but my personality is that now we are hungrier. We’ve proven that we can make the semifinals and play with the top teams, now it’s just a matter of putting it all together. It’s gratifying, but also it motivates us to improve,” concluded Etienne.

 
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