By Pascale Mondesir
This summer, Haiti’s national football team pleasantly surprised the country and the rest of the world as they advanced to the semifinals in the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, getting the closest to playing in the finals than they have ever been in years. Each win against heavy hitters such as Canada, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, instilled more pride in Haitians and earned the team new fans in the sport. But unfortunately for those cheering them on, Haiti fell to Mexico last month, missing out on a chance to play in the finals.
One of the bright spots on the team was Zachary Herivaux, the 23 year-old midfielder who qualified for the national team this year thanks to his dedication and raw talent. Pascale Mondesir spoke to him about what it was like to play for the Haitian team at such a young age, and what it means to him to represent the Caribbean country.
HAITIAN TIMES: When did you realize soccer was your passion?
ZACHARY HERIVAUX: Soccer was always a big part of my family. My dad grew up in Haiti and he was always exposing soccer to me. So when I grew up and was able to play any sport, soccer was always the first thing in my heart and in my head.
HT: Tell me how you first found out that you’d be playing with the Haiti team for the Gold Cup.
ZH: I started playing with Haiti in the U-20 and then I started going up to U-23. And Marc Collat, the [Haiti] head coach, I knew that he liked how I played, and the style, how I processed things, so I started getting called up to the qualifiers before the Gold Cup. I wasn’t really thinking about me getting called to the Gold Cup, I was only thinking about us qualifying, because the previous time we tried to qualify, it didn’t go so well. At the time I was just focused on doing the best for the team. I’ve always had confidence in the team with or without me, I just showed that I deserved to be there.
HT: What was your favorite moment of the entire tournament?
ZH: Definitely my favorite moment was reaching to the semifinals for sure. But not only that, but just seeing the joy that we were able to bring to the country. We are just playing a sport at the end of the day, but it means so much to the country and it means more than just a sport. It brings hope and opportunities for the country and joy. To be able to do that for the country is a true blessing and I will remember how it feels for the rest of my life.
HT: Considering how difficult life has been for Haitians especially since the earthquake, was that really special for you, to be able to be a ray of light for the country?
ZH: Yeah, definitely. I didn’t really know how bad it was until I got the opportunity to go down there for the first time when I was about a late teenager and ever since then it’s always been a real goal of mine to give back and do what I can to bring joy to the kids and bring hope and just be a real role model and idol for the kids out there. Because you don’t realize how much you mean to them until you go back and it kind of hits you, and it’s my job to do the best I can to help the country.
HT: Is it important to you to be a good representation for the country and let everyone know that’s part of your heritage?
ZH: Yeah absolutely, since day one. I wear it on my chest: I’m Japanese-American, but I’m also Haitian as well. That’s a big part of me, that part of the family influenced me a lot. Now that we have tried for the Gold Cup, a lot of Haitian-Americans are coming out, saying that they’re Haitian. They are more proud to be Haitian. So that’s something that I always wore on my chest, that I am not just Haitian, not just Japanese but I am also American. Culture is very important to me, it’s always important to identify yourself.
HT: You’ve accomplished so much at a young age, what are some goals you have as your star continues to rise?
ZH: This is just the beginning for me. The goal for a national team is obviously to try to make it to the world cup one of these days. And just to continue to grow as a country. For me personally, I just want to continue to play at the highest potential possible, and just keep pushing to maximize my dream and just keep motivating kids all around the world, especially the ones in Haiti.
HT: What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a professional athlete?
ZH: Never be content on where they’re at right now. Just keep pushing for more and keep dreaming. Because there’s many, many kids out there right now with the same dream and the second you stop dreaming, someone will step ahead of you. So keep dreaming and pushing and always be humble and remember when you came from. If you keep trying, I promise you, nothing will be able to hold you back.