By Jordan Osterman
The vElite tournament brings together unique teams from around the world, and this year’s competition has especially lived up thanks to the appearance of L’Athletique d’Haiti.
Travelling from the earthquake-stricken country, the U15 boys team is matched up against some of the tournament’s top competition.
“They’re on cloud 20,” said Tony Sanneh, founder of the Sanneh Foundation. The Foundation partnered with the Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation to create the Haitian Initiative that brought the team to Minnesota.
The team’s flight arrived at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, so it had less than seven hours before its first game. Understandably exhausted the team struggled in its morning matchup, dropping the decision 5-0 to California’s Albion SC White. Despite the quick loss, Haiti’s general manager Stephanie Pereira said just being a part of vElite offers the boys valuable lessons.
“I hope they can see what elite competition really is,” Pereira said. “Playing against the best teams shows them what they need to get better.”
The team learned quickly, notching a 2-1 win over Minnesota’s St. Croix Juventus in its afternoon match. After falling behind 1-0, Haiti scored two unanswered goals for the victory.
Pereira hopes the teams they play gives the players some new perspectives on the game.
“They will have seen different techniques from what they see back home,” she said. “Hopefully they can take what they see here and talk about it with friends back home.”
The team will also have a chance to learn from Sanneh. He will put on a camp for the Haitian team and some of the top U15 and U16 teams in the state, providing “more high intensity training” not readily available for them at home.
Life off the field
Bringing the team from the current situation in Haiti, Sanneh said a major goal was to give players a positive outlook on things while they are here.
“Hope. It’s hard there, so we want to show them what life could be like,” Sanneh said. “There are other opportunities out there and people who care, so they know it’s not a terrible situation.”
Part of making that possible is the host families that help acclimate the players to American life and provide friendly atmospheres. “Lots of pool parties,” Sanneh said.
As with any USA CUP team, a major part of the experience is making friends with fellow players. So far, that hasn’t been a problem.
“In the house today they got on the X-Box…the next thing you know they’re playing two-on-two, Haitian and an American versus Haitian and an American,” Sanneh said. “They have friends already and they’re all about being kids.”
Part of a bigger goal
When the Haitian Initiative was started earlier this year, it was founded with a “commitment of providing soccer-based youth programming, equipment and aid to Haiti.” Bringing the team comes from that goal.
“We want to raise awareness of these kids and their center,” Sanneh said.
The center is L’Athletique d’Haiti, a training facility for bringing soccer to the underprivileged youth of Haiti. The goal of the facility is to use sports to help create productive citizens, and this U15 team represents it.
The team will be a major benefiter this week of “Kick It Back”, part of the Sanneh Foundation, is accepting equipment donations throughout USA CUP. Before the drive has even begun, the treatment the team has received in Minnesota has been well appreciated.
“We’ve been taken care of every way possible,” Pereira said. “It’s beyond anything that we expected, so we’re so thankful for that and the kids are so happy.”