An hour and a half before any ball was to be kicked and any goal celebrated at BC Place, there wasn’t much activity going on, save for a crew members and volunteers setting up for Monday’s action at the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Then, from one corner of the stadium and amplified by the great acoustics under the dome, came the music. It was faint at first but it grew louder — the clapping and singing was infectious. The Haitian women’s soccer team had just arrived.
Haiti bowed out of the tournament on Monday on a high, picking up a 3-0 win over Cuba. This followed a pair of losses, first 6-0 to Canada then 2-0 to Costa Rica. Despite failing to advance to the knockout round of the tournament, the Haitian team did themselves proud.
"I’m very happy for my team and they really enjoyed the game so I’m happy for them," said Ednie Limage, the team’s starting goalkeeper. Limage was born in Miami to a Haitian father and plays for the University of Moncton.
With anything involving a Haitian team, thoughts immediately jump to the devastating earthquake just over two years ago. The Haitian Football Association lost more than 30 members when the building they were meeting in collapsed. In the immediate aftermath, it was decided that soccer could be a way to re-establish some sense spirit and pride in the nation.
"I felt very proud because I really wanted to score for my country because I really love my country. Even though we didn’t qualify, we’re not leaving in last [place]," said Manoucheka Pierre Louis, who scored Haiti’s goal in the second half.
"My country saw this."
Team is a family
While the team had a few players, like Limage, who were not be born in Haiti, the majority of the team will travel back to the reality of day-to-day life in the rebuilding nation. The players may be heading separate ways, at least until the next time the national team gets together, but this experience in Canada has brought them together.
"It’s a family. We’ve been saying that the team is a family," said midfielder Nadia Valentin.
As if the culture shock of travelling to Canada wasn’t enough, the team arrived during an unseasonable cold that brought a rare dump of snow to the B.C. lower mainland.
"It was the snow. It really surprised me. I really enjoyed it. It was the first time I saw it," said forward Sophia Batard, echoing the sentiments of many of her teammates.
Far from being turned off by a little snow, the Haitians still danced and sang their way in and out of training sessions and when lining up before walking out onto the BC Place field for games. They were having the time of their lives.
"I had a very good experience. I think I’ll come back here. I love Vancouver," said Pierre Louis with a massive ear-to-ear grin.
Local fans form support
Just as the Haitians embraced Vancouver, the city and its soccer fans embraced the team. First, B.C. Soccer Association donated jerseys to the team when they learned the team didn’t have an alternate uniform to wear.
When word of that came out, a few local soccer clubs started fundraising. Members of the Pitt Meadows Soccer Club raised about $3,000 for the team. A local restaurant hosted a final team meal for the club after their big win. In their final game, one young fan carried a sign saying ‘You inspire us Team Haiti.’
"I think in order to win this match we needed the support of the Canadians," said head coach Ronald Luxieux. "Once again I’d like to thank the Canadians and for all the help that they provided us."