Quake-ravaged Haitian soccer team trains in Texas
NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (AP) -- After the Haitian national soccer team couldn't eat another bite of chef-prepared pork or ice cream, and before going back to its cabins at a Texas resort, coach Jairo Rios asked for a favor.
Tents. As many as they could haul back to Haiti.
"I eat well here. I sleep well," forward Charles Herold Jr. said in French, speaking through a translator. "But I cannot help but think of my friends and family who don't have that. I can't get that off my mind."
Unable to practice in Port-au-Prince since the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed as many as 250,000 people, the Haitian team is staying in Texas until its May 5 game against Argentina. Players say a victory is badly needed to boost their country's spirits, even though they are heavy underdogs against one of the top teams in the world.
The Texas trip was organized by the nonprofit group San Antonio Sports, which is providing the training getaway for the devastated Haitian soccer federation. Players who've slept in the streets for the past three months have been feted with brisket and trips to shopping malls.
Players are already wrestling with the guilt of their relatively better fortunes. Forward Eliphene Cadet, 29, escaped from his house in Port-au-Prince after the roof caved on him and two children.
Leaving Haiti meant leaving his family in a tent in a field, near where his house once stood. Other players left their families in similar conditions.
"All the guys talk about it," Cadet said. "I know that they're here. There are still tremors now. That's our biggest worry."
The Haitian team has actually emerged from the earthquake luckier than some. All members of the national team survived, including those whose houses crumbled on top of them.
But 32 bodies were pulled from the rubble of the soccer federation's three-story headquarters, including coaches and top officials. Yves Jean-Bart, president of the soccer federation, was among only a few who escaped alive.
Some homeless families are still encamped at the national soccer stadium, and fields elsewhere remain blanketed by a canopy of makeshift tents and tarps. Robert Jean-Bart, the son of Haiti's soccer federation president and who lives in Boston, said there is virtually nowhere in the country to play soccer.
Jean-Bart said it was only last weekend that families began moving off the playing field in the stadium. He said the federation is trying to schedule a game in Port-au-Prince as early as August, but it will depend on how quickly the turf can be repaired.
Even before the quake, Haiti did not qualify for the World Cup. The international soccer federation FIFA ranks Haiti No. 91 in the world -- behind Iceland but above Gambia -- and the country's national team has not played an official game in nearly a year.
But players said facing Argentina -- ranked No. 9 -- will be as important to Haiti as a World Cup match.
"In Haiti, people say ask when we're going to play Argentina. People think you're going to do something good for the country," said defender Peter Germain. "If we win against Argentina, the people are finally going to be happy. We can do something positive for this country."
Nerves from the earthquake remain raw. On the bumpy flight last week to San Antonio, a bout of turbulence had Haitian players pressing their fingernails into the armrests.
"Even when the plane rumbles, it make them nervous," said Jean Roland Dartiguenave, an assistant coach whose cell phone store in Haiti was destroyed. "It reminds them of the tremors."