CONCACAF Q&A: Ronaldo Damus (RC Haitien & Haiti)

Forward Ronaldo Damus (pictured) helped Haiti qualify for the 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and is in the early stages of his senior squad career. (Photo: David Heykoop)

Haiti striker Ronaldo Damus is a determined player. Days after helping his country win the Caribbean under-20 qualifying title by netting a team-high six goals in the final round, he played for the senior squad in a 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup match against visiting French Guiana. Now, Damus has now turned his attention towards the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Costa Rica, hoping that Les Grenadiers can earn a berth in FIFA U-20 World Cup later that year. The RC Haïtien standout took some time to speak with about his ambitions moving forward.

When did you start to play football?
I started to play football when I was 5 years old. I would play with my father for fun and I would play at primary school. Since then, I always had a passion for football and I set a goal that this is what I want to do with my life. I have always been a striker as I was one of the fastest of my peers growing up. It is a role that I truly enjoy and an area in which I truly hope to improve.

You recently helped Haiti to win the Caribbean under-20 qualifying title in Curacao, while scoring six goals in the process. How does it feel to be a Caribbean champion?
It is a wonderful feeling to be champion of the Caribbean. Not only at U-20, but also at U-17, so this is a very special moment for our country. Scoring two goals in the final as well versus Antigua & Barbuda was a special moment for me personally. I always wanted to score in a final to help my country win a trophy, so I am happy I could have contributed in that way. The team played very well overall. I feel once we keep the same confidence and form, we should do well in Costa Rica.

How would you evaluate your overall performance in the final round of Caribbean under-20 qualifying?
Where my personal performance is concerned, I would give myself an eight out of ten. Six goals in five matches is a good return I would say. The hat-trick versus St. Lucia opened the door for me throughout the tournament. I was disappointed not to score against Cuba and Trinidad, but that happens in football and I took it as a learning experience. I had set out to score in every match I played, but it is a good platform for me to build on as I progress as a professional footballer.

Are there any footballers to whom you look up or give you inspiration?
From a Haitian perspective, Mechack Jerome is my favorite Haitian footballer. He is a very hard worker and he has been successful playing professionally abroad. He won the MLS Cup in 2013 with Sporting Kansas City and he won the USL Pro League with Orlando City in 2011, so he has shown me that you can achieve anything you want in football once you work hard. Outside of Haiti, Karim Benzema is the other player I look up to. Sometimes he goes through goal droughts, but he is always determined to get back on the scoresheet. I admire his zeal for football. It is something I hope to develop.

Looking ahead to the CONCACAF Uunder-20 Championship next year, the USA, Panama and St. Kitts & Nevis are in Haiti’s group. What are your thoughts on the competition?
It is not an easy group, but we definitely have the quality to finish in the top two of this group and get to the next group of three teams. We know we have never been to an Under-20 World Cup, but we are looking to be the first from Haiti to do it and create history. The U-17 team back in 2007 gave us memories of what they did in South Korea. With the U-20 World Cup in South Korea in 2017, we want to go back there and make a good impression.

You have experience in a CONCACAF tournament as you played in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Honduras and scored four goals. What do you take from that tournament?
The CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Honduras last year was a learning curve for me. Despite scoring four goals and being the third highest scorer in that tournament, it helped me realize how strong the region is and how professional football will be. There was a game every three days. The tournament helped me prepare mentally, so that I can endure more games in a short space of time. Going into the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, games will be every three days or so as well, so I will be prepared for that.

You made your senior team debut in a 1-0 loss to visiting Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier on September 2, 2016. How did you feel making your debut?
To make my debut for my country as a teenager and also have U-17 and U-20 experience was a rewarding feeling. Playing at home in front of the home crowd was an experience I will never forget. Disappointed not to get the win on the night, however, better days are ahead I am sure.

What is your main goal for 2017?
Well, I have two: help Haiti qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup and, secondly, help Haiti qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Accomplishing these two will make me very happy.