After a 29 Year Absence, Haiti is back on the continent’s biggest stage
For Haitian club Valencia, located in the small seaside town of Léogâne, this upcoming season promises to be a special one. Set to participate in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in their history, they’ll be flying the Haitian flag accompanied by two other Caribbean teams: Trinidad outfits W Connection and Caledonia AIA.
Created in 1962, the regional competition has only been conquered by Haitian teams on two occasions; RC Haïtien won the competition in 1963, while Violette A.C. took home the trophy in 1984. In each case, the team heralded from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. That said, success has proved elusive, as Haiti has not had a representative from the island in the group stages in 29 years. As you can probably gather, it’s quite extraordinary that Valencia has triumphed to such a promising extent given their limited resources.
As such, Valencia had to show a great deal of backbone and guts throughout the qualification process to achieve this. Here’s how qualifying works: Caribbean clubs, who have won their domestic trophy the previous campaign, qualify for the CCL through the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship, from which the top three teams in the tournament progress. This year, there were seven clubs and two groups, with fixtures played in late April.
The winners of each group qualify directly, while the second-place teams advance into a two-legged playoff round. Fellow Haitians Baltimore were in line to take part in Group 1 but withdrew before proceedings got underway; similarly, Surinamese side Inter Moengotapoe withdrew from Group 2.
In Group 2, Valencia kicked off against Bayamon of Puerto Rico and won 3-1. Two days later they took part in an awe-inspiring thriller against Portmore, just edging them out 4-3. In the last game, Valencia drew 0-0 with nine-man Boys’ Town, but seven points from three games was enough to guarantee advancement.
While Valencia’s qualification process was impressive all-around, striker Augustin Walson was a revelation, as his prolificacy and swagger in front of goal proved significant. Andre Amy and Samuel Pompee were also impressive.
The draw for the group stage of the CCL was held in early June, pitting Valencia against Costa Rican unit C.S. Herediano and Cruz Azul of Mexico. Herediano are current champions of their domestic league, while Cruz Azul’s fan base is hefty with their stadium holding just over 35,000 people. Fixture dates are yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, domestically, Jean Daniel Laurent’s men are on course (and Bwin.com favourites) to secure another Ligue Haïtienne title, which would follow their 2012 title as only the second in the club’s entire history. 18 games into the current season, ‘Vert et Rouge’ are at the summit of the table with 31 points, two clear of Baltimore in second. They’ve conceded the least goals in the division with 7, and scored the second highest with 18. With four more fixtures left before the beginning of the Playoffs, it has been another sterling, unfaltering campaign, and one that places them in good stead ahead of this year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
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