Haiti has winning feeling after an opening draw

Sony Norde (pictured) celebrates after Haiti's draw with Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on July 7, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. (Photo: Mexsport)

FRISCO, Texas – The math almost doesn’t add up.

The 23 players on Haiti’s roster for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup play club soccer in 13 countries. They had two weeks to try to get on the same page, which makes their 1-1 Group A draw with Panama Tuesday night at Toyota Stadium even more impressive.

“I’m very proud. I think today we revealed our character as a team,” said midfielder Jean Marc Alexandre, who plays for Negeri Sembilian in Malaysia. “We persevered until the end and we got a good result, not to forget Panama finished second in the tournament the last Gold Cup. For us I think it’s a positive result moving forward.”

Panama looked very much like a cohesive team throughout the match, had more of the ball and better scoring chances. When Alberto Quintero capitalized on a Haitian defensive mistake, it appeared the result many expected would come to fruition.

“You could tell Panama had better rhythm than us. The one-two combination in midfield and the two forwards work together well,” Alexandre noted. “That’s a group that’s been playing together for a long time and also play the same style of football.”

Haiti absorbed the pressure, tried to disrupt Panama’s rhythm and when the opportunity was there, Les Grenadiers used their speed on the counterattack.

“We did what we were supposed to do, what the coach expects us to do, just sitting and waiting for them,” said Fort Lauderdale Strikers midfielder James Marcelin.

The game plan paid off in a big way in the 86th minute, when second-half substitute Duckens Nazon scored the dramatic equalizer.

“What we have to do is play with heart, play for the country, play for the people,” said france-based captain Jean-Jacques Pierre. “There are a lot of people who would like to be in our position today. We just do it for them.”

The Haitians are embracing the underdog role and that undoubtedly will be the case again when they take the field against five-time champion United States in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Friday night.

“As sweet as this point is, we really have to wake up out of this dream and focus on the U.S., which is without a doubt the favorite to win this tournament,” Marcelin remarked.

Alexandre added: “It shows that against a high caliber team we can perform. In our group, without a doubt, we are the underdog and it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”

As for those 23 players from 13 countries, it might be a slight hindrance in a tournament, but it speaks to the growth of Haitian soccer.

“That’s very positive for my country,” Pierre finished. “I’ve been playing for my country for the last 16 years and this is the first time we have that many players playing outside. This is something very important for us.”