By Hal Kaiser
Despite playing most of the match with only 10 players, and the last ten minutes or so plus stoppage time with 9 players, an exhausted Haitian side outlasted Guatemala to open the CONCACAF Championship with a 1-0 win.
The match started slowly with neither side gaining a foothold early on. The first chance of the match fell to Guatemala in the 10th minute with striker Maria Monterroso finding Ana Lucia Martinez in front of goal. A Haitian defender was able to get a leg in, however, and deflect the shot out for a corner.
Haiti had keeper Cynthia Chery sent off in the 17th minute with straight red for an American football style tackle of Ana Lucia Martinez following a goalkeeping blunder. Back up keeper Geralda Saintilus entered the match and immediately had to face a penalty from Marilyn Gabriela Rivera. Rivera’s take was weak, however, and Saintilus easily made the save.
Haiti appeared to gain confidence from the save and began to take hold of the match, their pace, athleticism and strength giving Guatemala problems. Nevertheless, they were unable to generate any opportunities until the 33rd minute when Manoucheka Pierre-Louis got down the left sideline then pulled the ball back to the top of the box for a teammate who shot wide.
In the 38th minute, a cross found Pierre-Louis in front of the net but Guatemalan keeper Yoselin Franco made the save.
Guatemala finished the half strong and nearly got on the scoreboard in stoppage time when Monterosso headed Daniela Andrade’s cross off the crossbar.
Haiti took a risk at halftime by making their final two substitutions of the match. The move paid off, however, as the changes breathed life back into the Haitian attack. In the 56th minute, a free kick found Samantha Brand in the box who chested it on for Lindsay Zullo but Franco was able to make a point blank save.
Guatemala had an opportunity in the 67th minute with their own free kick, but Monterroso’s long range attempt bounced off the crossbar.
Haiti had looked dangerous all match long on set pieces and came close again in the 68th minute when a free kick again found Brown; Franco made a huge save once again, however.
Haiti finally found the opener just a minute later, the opportunity again coming from a set piece. Kensie Bobo’s cross from the right side was headed on by Yvrose Gevril. Franco initially made the save and attempted to palm the ball out. In the ensuing scrum, however, the ball bounced off an onrushing Zullo and into the net to put Haiti ahead.
In the final 20 minutes plus 7 minutes of stoppage time, Guatemala sent everything forward but could not break down a stubborn Haitian defense. As Haitian players went down one-by-one with cramps, the side valiantly held on, even when injury left them with only 9 players for the final 10 minutes or so.
With Haiti due to play Trinidad and Tobago in two days time, the repercussions of playing to the point of exhaustion could turn out to be significant. For now, however, Haiti will bask in the glory of an opening match win.