(Miami Herald) – It is hardly a surprise that Haiti beat Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 6-1 in their Gold Cup preliminary round match Friday in Fort Lauderdale.
The bigger surprise is that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines made it to Friday’s game at all.
That would be putting it mildly.
On April 9, while still dealing with the pandemic, the La Soufrière volcano on the island of Saint Vincent violently erupted, forcing 20,000 people to flee, including some national team players. Three of them wound up living with Mercury in his apartment.
“It was a big challenge as there was no training, fields of ashes, the air was not clean, we were worried about the players’ health, the staff, everyone. A lot of players lived in the red zone.”
Then on May 21 came the devastating news that veteran goalkeeper Dwayne Sandy was shot and killed at age 32.
“Our camp was in pieces after that,” Mercury said.
The team traveled to neighboring Grenada to train for nine days for World Cup qualifiers, but struggled physically and emotionally, and was trounced 10-0 by Guatemala before saving face with a 1-0 loss to Cuba.
The latest obstacle was with the visa process to enter the United States for the Gold Cup matches. The team stopped over in Barbados to get visas, had to quarantine, and seven of the 20 players were denied, so they had just 13 on the roster Friday. Center back Nigell Charles found out Thursday that he would be playing goalkeeper against Haiti.
Charles, who last played keeper when he was 10 years old, made several big saves and helped keep Haiti scoreless for the first 25 minutes.
St. Vincent’s lone goal came in the 42nd minute from Kyle Edwards, who plays for USL club Rio Grande Valley FC.
Despite the lopsided loss, Mercury was proud of his team. He said just playing in Inter Miami’s stadium was “amazing” for a group of players with so much stacked against them. His only request was that they play with heart and pride, and that they did.
“We fought until the end, left everything on the grass, when guys were cramping, they got up and kept playing, and they made me immensely proud,” the coach said. “It was a learning experience. I know the people back home are proud because they have a warrior mentality and our players were warriors.”
Haiti, meanwhile, was delighted with the win, especially coming off back-to-back shutouts against Canada in World Cup qualifying last month.