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17308: (Hermantin)Miami-Herald-Haiti-SOCCER NOTEBOOK-Haiti shows new life (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sun, Nov. 16, 2003

Haiti shows new life

Michelle Kaufman

Depending where you live in South Florida, the biggest game at the Orange
Bowl this weekend might not have been University of Miami vs. Syracuse on
Saturday. The game that matters most in Little Haiti, sections of Little
Havana and parts of West Dade is the Olympic soccer qualifier at 7 tonight
between the Under-23 teams of Haiti and Honduras. A crowd of 35,000 to
40,000 is expected, with Haitian fans flying in from all over the country
and from Port au Prince.

Haitian soccer is under new leadership, and for the first time in two
decades, fans have reason to be optimistic. Charles Voight, president of
Haiti Trans-Air, leads a group of Haitian businesspeople who are pumping
money into the nation's soccer programs.

Former U.S. national team defender and New England Revolution coach Fernando
Clavijo was hired two months ago to coach the Haitian national team and
supervise the Under-23 team. The entire Haitian soccer operation has moved
to Lauderhill.

Haitian fans are always loyal, even in the worst of times, but now, they are

''I can testify that for the last two months, Haitian soccer has seen huge
changes, and this game at the Orange Bowl is one of the biggest games ever
for the Haitian community,'' Clavijo said.

``We have tried to implant a professional structure that was missing in
Haitian soccer, and the community is very proud to see the changes. There is
a solid group behind their effort to make the Olympics for the first time,
and the momentum is swinging in their favor. Don't be surprised if 50,000
people show up.''

Clavijo said the talent has always been there -- as evidenced by the 1974
World Cup team -- but a lack of discipline and organization kept the
Haitians from being a factor in international soccer.

''When Nono [Baptiste, a Miami-based Haitian soccer coach] first approached
me eight months ago about this job, I told him I wasn't interested because
there was no structure and no organization,'' Clavijo said.

``But with these new people in charge, and Mr. Voight's backing, it's a
whole different story.''

Clavijo said the first order of business was getting the team to train in a
stable environment, so they moved the team headquarters to a Holiday Inn in
Sunrise and training to the Lauderhill Sports Complex.

Next thing was getting the players, coaches and staff to discipline

''The way it was before, they'd call practice for 3 and people would show up
at 5, including coaches,'' Clavijo said. ``You can't win that way. Everyone
needs to be committed to the rules, and there has to be discipline and
structure. We are getting that now, and those little things make all the
difference. Miracle workers, we are not. Only Bora [Milutinovic, the nomadic
World Cup coach] works miracles. But this might be the time for Haiti to get
on the map.''

Clavijo, a native of Uruguay, has spent time in Haiti over the past few
months and says it was a ''life-changing'' experience.

''That is an unbelievable country, and I left with a whole new respect for
Haitians and a new perspective on life,'' he said. ``They have endured very
hard times, and somehow they are still happy and proud.''

The winner of today's match advances to the final eight in Mexico City, and
the top two from there earn spots in the Olympics.

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