By Ralph “Onz” Cherry
Haitian international Christiano ‘Cheetah’ François’s career started on the highest note possible, he was his country’s Young Player of the Year at just 16 in 2009. Although his talent never stopped sparkling from his feet, things didn’t follow through as expected.
The midfielder bounced between eight teams across three different countries in the past six years—two of these teams ceased operations, Ottawa Fury F.C. and Rochester Rhinos.
“I respect him [François] because a lot of players who went through his journey would have quit a long time ago,” semi-pro soccer club F.C. Motown’s head coach, Šaćir Hot, said of his former player. “He doesn’t stop, he just keeps playing. He wouldn’t be on that many teams if he wasn’t a fighter.”
When Ottawa stopped running in November 2019, François had just finished his first season with them, in which he won the club’s Fan Player of the Year award. The Haitian went nearly three months without a club but was hopeful of finding another one and excel with them.
“Every USL team I played for I left my mark,” he said in Creole during a phone-interview. “When I do find another team, same thing again.”
On Jan. 30, another USL side, Reno 1868 F.C., signed François. It’s another exciting new beginning, something the speedster has been very familiar with since his teenage years.
Going back to 2009, it was easy to notice 16-year-old François amongst the men in Ligue Haitienne. His eyes were innocent, his face was pure and firm without facial hair and his jersey hung on his shoulders a little more than the older and bigger players.
As soon as François touched the ball it was evident why he was getting a shot at the pro level as a teenager. He was explosive, dribbled the ball smoothly and was confident. So confident that he scored the goal that granted Racing Club Haitien their national title in 2009 with a volley from outside the box.
François was selected as the best young Haitian player that season. Ticket Magazine published an article on him titled “Le Racing a son Cristiano [Ronaldo]” meaning, Racing has their Cristiano. His fame was growing to the roof—and he was just a kid from a small town near Port-au-Prince named Cabaret. They scouted the Cabaret native while he was playing in the streets.
The world was at the youngster’s feet. And he felt it.
“Man, I thought I was going to be the next big Haitian player. I always thought I was going to go to Europe to play,” the new Reno player reminisced.
François would eventually go to Europe but if only he knew the ride that was in front of him. First, it was mother nature that started the nomadic theme of his career.
On Jan. 12, 2010, François’s classes ended too late for him to go to pre-season practice in Port-au-Prince with Racing, so he stayed at his hometown, Cabaret, and trained with a team there. As he was practicing, a violent earthquake struck Port-au-Prince.
The field where the midfielder was training wasn’t affected, he only felt the quaking. But as for Port-au-Prince, it was left in ruin. Countless buildings and houses collapsed and Ligue Haitienne had to take an abrupt pause.
“I thought my career was done,” François admitted. “I even thanked God because I had time to make it to the top-level in Haiti.”
A phone call fanned his dream back to life. An agent saw the article on François from Ticket Magazine and contacted the teenager to offer him the opportunity to move to the United States and play for a prominent high school, Saint Benedict’s Prep.
François won New Jersey’s Player of the Year once during his high school days before playing an impressive freshman year with University of Maryland. MLS side, D.C. United, was impressed and picked him in the 2014 MLS Waiver Draft.
Although the talent was there, things didn’t click for François at D.C. United. He never played for them but was loaned to Richmond Kickers in the USL. The former St. Benedict’s superstar only played 10 matches with Richmond before deciding to move to Portugal.
François enjoyed two spectacular seasons in Portugal with SC Vila Real in the fourth division and Felgueiras 1932 in the third division. Nevertheless, the Haitian moved back to the U.S. in 2016 because of personal challenges.
“I got used to all these moves, but it wasn’t easy. In Portugal, I was in a whole different country, so it was very hard,” the 26-year-old said.
After looking for a professional team in the U.S. for seven months, François finally signed a contract with USL club, Rochester Rhinos, on March 21, 2017.
“It was like manna fell out of the sky,” the ex-Racing man said.
He played a successful debut season with Rochester, racking six goals and six assists in 12 games. But sadly, the club ceased operations. On to another team it was for François. This time, he joined Pittsburgh Riverhounds and was their third top scorer in 2018.
Despite his success with Pittsburgh, he transferred to another club in 2019, Ottawa Fury F.C. François played his best season with them, tallying nine goals and seven assists.
The winger’s performances with Ottawa earned him his first call-up on Haiti’s senior team on Aug. 26, 2019. François noted that it was his best memory of 2019 but then three days later, mixed emotions cramped his mind as his father passed and never saw him play in his two matches for Haiti.
After the end of his first season with Ottawa in November, the ex-UMD player was hit with another blow, the club stopped operating but later joined the Canadian Premier League in late January.
“It’s very hard, every team I go to something happen,” François lamented. After having interest from many USL sides, the 26-year-old chose Reno, as mentioned.
The Haitian is eager to start yet another chapter in his career.
“New challenge, new team, new city, new country, new conference but the same cheetah,” François tweeted.
“I am really excited about the new chapter. I want to thank Reno and San Jose Earthquakes [the club’s affiliated MLS team] for this opportunity. I am ready to work, I am ready to score more goals and more assists.”