GLENDALE, Ariz. — Derrick Etienne Jr.’s Gold Cup adventure continues Tuesday night in what will be the 22-year-old’s biggest game of his international career to date.
The New York Red Bulls midfielder will line up for Haiti against mighty Mexico in a Gold Cup semifinal at State Farm Stadium (10:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN), with perhaps upwards of 60,000 fans rooting primarily for Mexico and against he and his teammates. But Haiti has made it this far, and Etienne speaks with confidence about his team’s opportunity to take down the Concacaf giants.
“For us, we see it as a chance to go out there and get another win,” Etienne said. “It’s 90 minutes. We’ve upset people already, so hopefully we continue on that path and get this win and get to the final.”
Les Grenadiers are a mix of players born on the Caribbean island and those, like Etienne, born in the U.S. and other countries with Haitian parents. Etienne, born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, said the common goal among he is and his teammates is to see Haiti rise as a nation.
“We have guys who were born in Canada, guys born in the States, guys born in France and in Haiti. But we all understand what we’re here for, and that is to lift the trophy,” Etienne said. “So to do that, we all have to be on the same page, and I think it makes it pretty easy because we all want to see Haiti thrive.”
Haiti coach Marc Collat said having dual citizens on the roster is a benefit to the team.
“They want to play for the nation of their parents,” Collat said. “For us, it is an additional source of recruiting to allow us to have more talent.”
Life on the island continues to be a struggle nine years after a devastating earthquake that killed thousands and displaced thousands more, in addition to recent political unrest. But the scenes of celebration in the streets captured on social media from the capital, Port-Au-Prince, after Haiti defeated Canada are still fresh in the minds of Haiti’s Gold Cup contingent.
“After the Costa Rica game, we saw how the Haitian fans took to the streets in America,” Etienne said. “We can only imagine how it was in Haiti, and then seeing it after we beat Canada, seeing how much joy the people had. So we’re going to use that as motivation and continue to push on and hopefully get a win.”
Said Collat: “There are many players with family in Haiti. And when they see (celebrations) they are reminded of them. That gives them more strength.”
Etienne is one of two Haiti players currently with MLS clubs — Zachary Herivaux of the New England Revolution is the other. He said coming up in the Red Bulls academy and playing with the senior team in MLS has given him the experience and confidence to play in the Gold Cup.
“For me to be able to grow and develop there, I think it’s helped me get ready for the international stage,” Etienne said. “I’m just looking to use the experience that I’ve gained being able to play professionally for a couple of years and bring it here, and hopefully it helped me get some points here.”
Etienne said he can't speak for opponents as to whether they've overlooked Haiti as a Gold Cup opponent.
“If they were, that’s unfortunate for them that they did that,” he said. “But we’re showing that we’re a quality side. We can sit back and we can counter, or we can press and win. We respect teams, we don’t fear teams. That’s our mindset.”