For weeks now, South Florida soccer fans have been glued to their T.V. sets watching the European championships and Copa America. This weekend, they get a chance to see nine international matches in their backyard.
The 2021 Gold Cup kicks off Friday with a triple-header of preliminary round matches at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the home field of Inter Miami CF.
Action gets underway at 4:30 with Haiti vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, followed by Bermuda vs. Barbados at 7 p.m. and Trinidad and Tobago vs. Montserrat at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday’s lineup is Bahamas vs. Guadeloupe (4:30), Cuba vs. French Guiana (7 p.m.), Guatemala vs. Guyana (9:30 p.m.). The winners of the six matches move on to a three-game slate on Tuesday July 6 and the winners of those games earn the final three spots in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage.
One of the most compelling storylines of the weekend is the Cuban team, which has only five domestic-based players on its 23-man roster. The other 18 play professionally abroad, which was unheard of on Cuban teams of the past. In the last Gold Cup, the entire Cuban roster was based in Cuba.
This time, there are four Cuban players based in the United States, including 17-year-old forward Dairon Reyes and defender Modesto Mendez, who play for Inter Miami’s USL Fort Lauderdale team.
“Both Modesto and Dairon are very proud to be representing their home country in the Gold Cup,” said Fort Lauderdale CF coach Darren Powell. “It should be a great experience for both of them. Modesto is a very brafe defender, and has really improved this season. Dairon is a very skillful creative player.”
The other U.S.-based players are goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and defender Jorge Corrales of FC Tulsa.
The Cuban roster also includes four players from the Guatemalan leagues, two from Brazil, and one each from leagues in Spain, Italy, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, San Marino, Norway and England. Forward Onel Hernandez, a Cuban-German dual national who plays for Norwich City in England.
Haiti’s team is also loaded with international-based players. Only two Haitian players – Roberto Louima and Dutherson Clerveaux – are play in the Haitian league. The rest play in the United States, France, Ecuador, Belgium, Canada, Portugal, Cyprus, Denmark and Armenia.
The U.S. based players on the Haitian roster are midfielder Zach Herivaux (New England Revolution), midfielder Derrick Etienne (Columbus Crew), goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre (Miami FC), defender Francois Dulysse (UCF Knights), forward Ronaldo Damus (North Texas SC).
“We feel at home here in South Florida with all the Haitian community,” said Haiti coach Jean-Jacques Pierre. “We know the Haitian people love soccer above all, so we have to show our best mindset. We are expecting they will come support us like they always do, so we have to thank them. We are targeting the qualification into the Gold Cup for them.”
Pierre said his team’s ability to train was impacted by COVID-19, like all teams around the world.
“We have a lot of players in Europe who were impacted, as well as players everywhere,” he said. “They haven’t really played together much in a year, so we don’t have the cohesion, but we accept that and have to keep working hard, giving and getting pleasure from our sport.”
Haiti has played in eight Gold Cups and its best finish was third place in 2019.
“We want to go as far as possible like we did in 2019 and write another page in Haitian soccer history,” said defender Carlens Arcus, who plays for Auxerre in the French second division. “We have players based all over the world, some don’t even speak Creole, but when we get together to play for the pride of Haiti. This tournament will be a big challenge.”
Haiti is looking to rebound from a second-round exit in World Cup qualifying. Haiti is 4-1-0 against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is led by forward Cornelius Stewart, who has 18 international goals in 47 appearances.
For tickets to the Gold Cup matches, go to https://www.concacaf.com/gold-cup/tickets/