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STEADILY IMPROVING HAITI HAVE POTENTIAL TO CAUSE PROBLEMS
Underdog, thy name is Haiti! Drawn into a tough Group A with one of CONCACAF’s two powerhouses (USA) and two of Central America’s heavyweights (Honduras and Panama), Les Grenadiers, on paper, will be lucky to get a point. But they don’t play on paper. And Marc Collat’s side has steadily improved since he took over in 2014: They finished third at last fall’s Caribbean Cup, and have lost only twice in 10 games under Collat.
Many of the current squad were born outside of Haiti – including three in the United States – and more players than ever ply their trade in leagues abroad; in fact, only the No. 3 goalkeeper is with a Haitian club. Will all of the international club experience be enough for Haiti to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009? At the very least, they’re going to make things interesting for their more celebrated opponents.
GROUP A SCHEDULE
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Johnny Placide, G, Reims: Born just outside of Paris, the Haitian captain has spent his entire career in France, and even featured for the French U-21 squad in 2009. This past season at Reims, the 27-year-old held the starting role for most of the season, but was benched after a poor home loss in early February. Given Group A’s firepower, Placide will have to be anything but placid if Haiti are to advance.
Jean Sony Alcenat, M, Steaua Bucuresti: One of Haiti’s most experienced players, the 29-year-old has more than 50 caps and nearly a decade of experience in Europe. Following four years in Portugal, he moved to Romania, where he won the Cup with Petrolul and then, this month, signed with reigning champions Steaua. Although listed as a midfielder, he has often lined up at right back for his club and could see time there for Haiti.
Kervens Belfort, F, Ethnikos Achna: The man expected to carry the offensive load, the 23-year-old Belfort was joint leading scorer at the 2014 Caribbean Cup. He spent most of his career in the French lower divisions with Le Mans, Grenoble, and Frejus St-Raphael, before moving to Cypriot side Ethnikos in January and notching three goals in 15 appearances.
A native of Martinique, Marc Collat has more than 30 years experience as a coach. His resume includes stints as a scout and academy coach at Paris St. Germain and managing the France U-18 team that included a young Zinedine Zidane. He took over Haiti in 2014 and led them to third place in the Caribbean Cup last fall, where they lost only to regional heavyweights Jamaica.
GOLD CUP HISTORY
Haiti have qualified for the Gold Cup five previous times, but it has rarely been a pleasurable experience. Twice, they have advanced from the group stage. Their best performance came in 2002, when they won a group with Canada and Ecuador before falling in the quarterfinals to Costa Rica in extratime.
At the last Gold Cup, in 2013, Les Grenadiers surprised many with a 2-0 group-stage defeat of fellow Caribbean nation Trinidad & Tobago, thanks to a brace from forward Jean Eudes Maurice. The result seemed to augur another trip to the knockout round, but they stumbled in their final game against El Salvador and finished bottom of the group.
MLS/USA /CANADA CONNECTIONS
MLS and the other, lower-division leagues of the USA and Canada have long been destinations for Haitian players. Sporting Kansas City’s Soni Mustivar was named to the 23-man roster, but his status remains somewhat uncertain after appearing for SKC in the US Open Cup on Wednesday.
Beyond Mustivar, the Haitian squad includes five former MLSers: ex-Rapids goalkeeper Stewart Ceus (Atlanta Silverbacks), ex-Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste (unattached), ex-Sporting KC defender Mechack Jerome (Charlotte Independence), ex-Timbers/Dallas midfielder James Marcelin (Ft. Lauderdale Strikers), and ex-Real Salt Lake midfielder Jean-Marc Alexandre (Negeri Sembilan).
Three other players are in the United States, including Pascal Millien (Jacksonville Armada), Sebastien Thuriere (Charleston Battery), and Bitiello Jean Jacques, a defender for wonderfully-named Kraze United of the 4th-division NPSL.