They were just a bunch of friends playing soccer. Maybe it was a little different this time. The ultimate prize was not just pride of victory in small-town Haiti; a chance for a trip to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was also on the line.
This group of friends from a handful of towns in Haiti gathered just over a month ago in the Cayman Islands. The goal was to advance out of a qualifying stage on a journey towards the Olympics. In their group were hosts Cayman Islands and Grenada.
Right back Denso Ulysse was thrilled to be back with his teammates.
“First thing, I was so excited. It’s been a long time since I saw these players. We grew up together. I was so excited to be part of the team.”
Haiti has never qualified for the Olympics. The dream is grand.
“We never qualified for the Olympics. The competition means more for us.”
They beat Grenada 2-0 in their first match. Then, in the final match of the Group Stage, they earned a 2-2 draw with the hosts. One of Ulysse’s teammates broke his leg in that second match, placing some stress on the squad mentally. But the result was enough to get Haiti through.
This month, they’ll face Barbados in the final leg of Caribbean qualifying. If Haiti wins that one-leg playoff they will advance to the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying against powerhouses like Mexico, Honduras, and the United States. Many teams in that round will be made up of USL Championship players.
In 2018, Ulysse was one of the USL’s 20 under 20. Now in his third season he has the chance to help take a group of players to one of the grandest sports stages in the world. Tacoma Defiance will be a big reason for that.
“I’ve had good experiences here. When I first came here, it was hard to speak English. Now I learn more things – on the pitch, off the pitch. People are nice to me. I’m glad to be here. It’s good for me and my career. I’ll keep going and work hard to understand everything about this team.”
With Tacoma Defiance Ulysse will burst along the flank using his speed to capture space. With Le Rouge et Bleu he runs even more.
“I get even more forward there. I’m fast and my team knows me. They give me the ball every time so I go up and down.”
That’s what soccer friends are for – giving you the ball so you can help each other succeed, and dream.