Sam’s Blog: Day 10

Day Ten: Cuba is Going Down

Today started with a little jog and stretch. Had a little breakfast afterwards. The whole day was consumed with thoughts of the game to come. How is it going to go, will we come out on top, will we make Haiti proud? All I could do was hope and pray we would kill it today. 
Everything was set to start the game. We were lined up under the tunnel and waiting…waiting to see who’s going to get an all expense paid trip to Trinidad and be one step closer to the World Cup. Then one of my captains starts a chant, our echoes were so loud we can hear the huge crowd react. Then, just inches away is their respective line, Cuba chants back. We were polite enough to let them finish their little cheer before we blasted one right back at them. This continued back and forth, chant after chant. Now, some people use pump up playlists to get them excited to play…think of your best one, and the most pumped up you have ever been…then times that by a gazzillion and that’s how this tunnel was for both teams. You can tell both of us were ready to fight and ready to represent our countries with pride. 

Cuba came out strong! Now, I’m gonna go into a little tactics for you soccer scholars out there, if it bores you, just skip to the next paragraph. Against Suriname, we played a 4-4-2 and we had a very high line of pressure. We pressed strategically and our forwards man marked their outside backs and made their center backs the play makers. As outside mids, we stood in the gap between their outside mids and our center mids and invited them to try and play to their outside players. We of course picked off those passes and went straight to goal. Flash forward to today’s strategy. The polar opposite on pressure. We set our line of confrontation pretty far back and low pressed around the half way line until they played into the center mids and the we pressed and made them play back. They really didn’t know how to solve this. The center backs were forced to dump balls into our backs as a last resort and we would receive them facing forward and counter. 

Ok, back to the juicy details. Our first chance on goal was from yours truly. Our left outside mid sent a ball into the muck of us rushing the goal, one of my forwards went up for it and I quickly said to leave it and the ball perfectly connected with my head. Now, I usually give credit to keepers where it’s due, but in this case she seemed more like she tried to protect her face and just happened to save this from going in. There were many more chances like this as we tried to counter, but our main concern was not letting them score. We beat Suriname 3-0 and they beat them 2-0, so with a draw, we advance. There were some seriously shaky moments where we weren’t playing the better soccer, but all of the sudden, it changed. Something shifted. We started to win more and more 50-50 balls. We started catching them on their heals and started getting more chances on goal. But, even with that shift in power, we went into halftime 0-0 (but that really means we were winning).

Second half started very similarly to the first. I was switched over to the left side to take a run at that back. The first play we get, a cross comes in over both center backs and right in front of the outside back on my side. I leap into the air passed her (she had about 4 inches on me in height) and somehow she clips me and what I thought was going to be the best header goal I ever scored, instead, with a little help from her nudge, was quite the face ball. I recovered quickly and we started to really go at them. Close chances, a couple threaded through balls, but we were once again plagued with no goals. Cuba started to get a little fatigued and with fatigue came a lot more fouls. On one in particular, Wiseline, one of my favorite center mids ever, sent a flighted ball straight into the run one of our forward. She jumped as high as her little legs could permit, but just couldn’t get there. But wait, the defender behind her jumped as well. And all of the sudden, the ball passes my forward and connects with that defender’s head and the ball goes sailing straight into the goal!!!! We couldn’t believe it! It was 39 minutes into the second half and because our forward had such high hopes and a pretty inaccurate expectation of her vertical, she enticed her defender to jump with her creating that own goal! The crowd, our team, (I’m pretty sure the refs too) went WILD!!!! For that last 6-7 minutes of this game, we fought and fought to hold that win! And we did. And Haiti has qualified for the next round of World Cup Qualifiers!!!! 

Now all of that is pretty amazing if you ask me, but it wasn’t my favorite part of the celebration. What was, was that player who took that free kick.  The second the whistle blew and she knew her goal carried us through to the next stage, she took a knee and gathered us all up to pray. For someone who just scored a goal to advance her country to the next step in the World Cup, IN her country to immediately kneel down after the game to pray and give someone else the credit…I mean, thats a different kind of humble. You don’t have to be religious to be inspired by that. She could’ve done a victory lap pointing to herself, and the crowd would’ve went crazy. But she didn’t, she grabbed her team and knelt us all down to give glory to someone else. I can’t tell you how much I respect her for this, and for so many other reasons!

And that’s that! The crowd was unbelievable! Our team was spectacular and I can’t even explain how happy everyone was. I’m still whirling from it all now! We came, we conquered, and now we can sleep well tonight. Just tonight though, because tomorrow, we start refocusing because there’s more work to be done for Haiti on this journey to the 2015 Women’s World Cup!

Photo Blog

As I post these pictures, Sam is in Haiti playing against Cuba! We should have updates of the game by tonight!! In the meantime,  she thought you’d all like to see a few pics of where she’s been living and training this past week. Enjoy!



Sam’s Blog: Day 9

Day Nine: Preparing for Another Fight

Today was all about staying in the shade and trying to relax after our match yesterday. We had a lot of hanging out, even invented a few silly games to occupy our time. I made them both up. The first one, you had to throw a rock through a specific part of a chain link fence, and the second, stay with me now, was trying to throw balled up paper into a cup in front of the person across from you. The second was invented because the first was an outdoor game and it got way too hot outside. Although these may seem silly, you would be surprised at how much fun and addicting they were, kind of like an all natural anti-technology angry bird game. Just good old fashioned fun with my teammates. 

Other than a couple meals, today was mostly dedicated to just recovering and refocusing. I definitely saw a change in the interactions of the different teams today. Suriname seemed a lot more relaxed and even had a little party this evening. I got to speak in broken English and Spanish with one of the Cuban center mids, Laura. She’s been very nice this whole time and is definitely my favorite. 

During one of these interactions, one of the Suriname players said she’s betting that Cuba would beat us tomorrow, even joked and said she is going to bet her car they will. I say, bring that bet on, but I’m a little concerned. Not that we won’t win, but concerned for how much it’s going to cost her to ship me her car all the way from Suriname to Dublin, Ca. 
I’m excited to play again tomorrow and for the battle that is to be Haiti vs Cuba.

Sam’s Blog: Day 8

Day Eight: GAME DAY!

So, we had our game today. I woke up to Cuba playing music way before my alarm went off. Yeah, I’m going to remember that for Tuesday. Then we were off to get one last tactical walk through in. Boy it was hot today! I don’t know that it was all that much hotter than usual, but there was no breeze, so we felt it! Then we had some breakfast and it wasn’t long before we were sitting down again to eat lunch, and before I knew it, we were in our way to our match against Suriname.
The drive was long, I may have dozed off a little bit. When we got there, that sun was relentless! But boy was it a good day to play some soccer. We got into the locker room, changed quickly and sat for our pre game speech. We were reminded of our specific roles and off to “warm up.” I use the word “warm” loosely, since it was beyond hot out. I was focused, but little by little I noticed the stands starting to fill. And not just the stands, but soon the trees surrounding the field had people climbing them for what I say were the best seats in the house. I saw kids, families, bands, grandmas, grandpas filling what were just empty stands.
The whistle blows and we are off. It was amazing how so many things that we prepared for happened. We all stuck to our positional jobs! The whistle blows again, our first corner of the game. The ball is crossed in, our outside mid goes up for a header, it’s going, going, but at the last second, a defender reaches and hits it out for another corner. This one comes short and we shoot, and again, the defense gets a piece of it and clears it away. The game is tense, with them playing into every trap we set. We have chance after chance, but we are just plain unlucky. Corner kick again. It pops out right to me, I take a touch, shoot as low and hard as I can and think, there’s no way this isn’t going in! The keeper dives and suddenly possessed by Hope Solo, has a fantastic save.
The game continues and we are knocking at the door. Constantly on their half, shooting, crossing, dribbling passed them, but we just can’t score! I was happy to play outside mid in this game and me and my opposite outside mid had a field day taking on the outside backs. As we move the ball across the field, my center mid plays a perfect through ball diagonally to the opposite outside mid and she’s off to the races. She takes a final touch to set her up for a cross and I watch from the weak side. As she winds up (and I’m not making this up), I say, out loud to myself, “Follow everything.” She lets the ball rip off her foot and it flys through the air passed both center backs, passed my outside back, straight into my path! I reach and lunge and with the outside of my right foot, the ball and I connect mid air. I get a piece of it and with a subtle curve, it sails right into the side netting! Haiti 1, Suriname 0. I was told my reaction was that of shock, and it makes sense as the first thing I remember after the goal was laying down and being dog piled. Man, I’ve played for some loud crowds, but this was the loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd yell and I was elated!!! We ended the half with that one solitary goal.
The second half started a bit shaky. Suriname wasn’t going to lay down and let us walk all over them. We of course weren’t in the business of doing anything but win this game, but we may have gotten a little sloppy. All of the sudden, Suriname midfielder intercepts the ball in the middle, she sends a crisp fast ball between our center backs and their forward takes off. She beats our center back for speed and takes a touch toward goal, preparing to even the score. Our goalkeeper was caught off guard, way too far off of her line. She scrambles to get positioned correctly and boom, Suriname forward takes a shot. It’s heading straight for the upper 90 when fate, the wind, God…something redirects it and it pings off the upper post and out for a goal kick. We recognized right there and then, we still had a tall order of business to take care of.
The ball gets played to our center mid, she looks up, I scream for a through ball into the box and she delivers. I decide to send in an early cross and as I do, a defender steps into the space I’m hoping to play through. Unfortunately for her, her hand was the first thing to meet the ball and we get a pk. I don’t actually watch these, ever, not when my teammates take them, not when the teams I coach take them, not when a team I walk passed takes them…it’s just a nerve wrecking experience I don’t like being a part of. But I did watch the crowd. And my midfielder,  Wiseline Dolce (the same one who played me that ball), must’ve put that ball in perfectly because the crowd went wild! Haiti 2, Suriname 0.
I know, and most of you probably know, a 2-0 lead is one of those scores that so often turn into a 3-2 loss. But Manoucheka Pierre-Louise, the other outside mid, isn’t the type of player to think about silly superstitions like that. She’s the type of player who takes the ball passed an outside back, drills it towards the goal and beats the goalkeeper with a line driven ball near post for our third goal of the game!!! Haiti 3, Suriname 0.
I breathed easy after that goal. We had many more awesome chances and so many moments I’ll replay on my head forever. The crowd, my teammates effort level, the discipline we had to have for that result, those are moments I’m cherishing now and will for as long as I can. Mwen kontant avek ekip mwen!
On top of this amazing start to qualifiers, my U15 team won their last game today AND the Bay Area Breeze won too!!!! Three for three? I’m going to sleep so well tonight! Oh and Cuba? That’s just the tip of the ice burg of what we are capable of! You’ll see.
Haiti 3-0 Suriname
33′ – Sam Brand
55′ – Wisline Dolce
78′ – Manoucheka Pierre-Louis
Click here for Official Match Write-up

Sam’s Blog: Day 7

Day Seven: Preparing for Battle

Today’s morning session was all about the tactical way to beat Suriname yesterday. We walked through, piece by piece of how they play and how to shut them down. When we watched them play yesterday, it was sort of a weird feeling. I honestly haven’t “scouted” a team since college, so I had all these visions of how I would go about beating their outside back, or how and where to shoot at their keeper. It would be awesome if any or better yet, ALL of those visions came true!
Side note: I tried to do a couple of short video blogs to show where we train and where we eat. I apologize if I slip into Creole at times, or Creonglish? Well, that doesn’t quite have the same ring as Spanglish…but you know what I mean. Anyway, they won’t send for some reason, but I’ll keep trying.
Everyday, I’ve gotten to meet one or more of my teammates family members or friends. It’s such a cool thing to meet someone’s family, where and who they came from, who they resemble, who their smile comes from and of course, their personality. It’s been a sight to see. I’ve known a couple of them for years and this is the first time I’ve gotten to meet some of their family members. They met my mom a few years ago and to this day, every time we meet up to play together, they ask how she is doing. Probably because they are amazing and caring, and of course because my mom is very hard to forget!
Also, where we stay is an soccer academy for kids. So, today I got to snap some pictures of the cutest little kiddies. But their looks can be deceiving because they are ballers! I had the privilege of watching some of them play and most of the U9 players have more skill at their age now, than I did in college. Must be something in the water, I’m definitely bringing some back with me!
Well, tonight, I’ll dream of scoring, assisting, connecting passes with my teammates and trying to live up to some of those lil ones and their mad skillz! Tomorrow, we take another step to qualifying for the World Cup!

Sam’s Blog: Amazing Team!!

Day Six: Amazing Team!

I woke up to a beautiful surprise! I knew I had an amazing team in my Magic girls, but boy, this was beyond amazing. You see, my thoughtful, awesome, beautiful team is doing something so great, it made me tear up. They are going around to different people and businesses and asking them to donate money to the Haiti National team for every goal they score! I mean, could they be anymore fantastic? I read this email, and I cried. My last blog spoke about how I want to help my team, but sometimes don’t know how. My girls have blessed me by figuring out a way for me to do it through and with them. I couldn’t be more happy and proud of this team that I have the pleasure to be a part of. So, if you happen to see a Magic player, please give them a hug for me. A good one!
Well, after that email about Magic, I couldn’t help but have a great day and a great session. There were a lot of people watching the session today! Teams of all ages, older boys’ teams, young boys’ teams, young and old girls’ teams, so many! They oooo and awe at different things. It’s going to be exciting to play in front of even more people. Nervous? Me? Yes, yes I am. But I can’t help but be more excited than anything. And to know there are so many back at home supporting and wishing us good luck, it’s an awesome feeling.
We got to go watch Cuba play against Suriname today. Our competition. The game was brutal. At times it looked like war out there. When people play for their country, representing something so important to them, a different kind of strength comes out. You can tell there’s so much more to fight for. Sometimes, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone, sometimes we take the opportunity to play for granted. Well, here, in these qualifiers, every second you can put your boots on and represent your country is treasured in a place in your heart that will stay with you forever. That just might be why excitement outweighs nerves right now!
Hope I can sleep with all this excitement!!

(Click here to find out more about the Magic Goals 4 Giving Campaign. Thanks for checking it out! -AT)

Sam’s Blog: It’s Not All Smiles

Day Five AM: It’s Not All Smiles

So, I think up until now, all these blogs have been about the good of this experience. I’d be lying if I said that’s all I see while I travel with this team and I feel the other side is important to share as well. This small interaction with my teammate before I left has been heavy on my heart. So much that I couldn’t sleep this morning without speaking on it.
As we were having our last lunch in the States, I asked one of the players I’ve played with since 2010 if she was excited to go home and see her family. She hesitated to answer. As she started to respond, I saw that she wasn’t very excited, it looked more like anxiety or stress across her face. When she explained why, I was brought back to a reality that these girls often unknowingly take me to. She said that she doesn’t want to go home because she has no money. I didn’t understand at first, but she explained further. Last year, the players received money every month while they were playing in the States. I guess that they haven’t been getting money this go around from the Federation. So every time they go home, their family expects them to bring money to help support them as they did last year, but this year, they can’t. She seemed so ashamed by this. She seemed like she was telling me that she felt her family doesn’t see the joy in seeing her unless she brings them money. Like her worth to her family was measured in dollar signs. I know this not to be true, but she sees it that way.
I didn’t know how to respond. I still don’t. All I know is that I want to help, but don’t know how.


Sam’s Blog: Day 5

Day Five: Training Day

We found out today that we were not going to play tomorrow. Guadalupe never made it here, I think they all had a fever? I don’t know, probably lost in translation somehow. So, we trained twice today. We now will play Suriname on June 1st and still play Cuba on the 3rd. Definitely a go with the flow type moment. I was pretty pumped to play tomorrow, but we will just have a little more time to prepare now.
So, I wonder if you can relate. Ever had those training sessions where you just aren’t cutting it? Where your brain says one thing, and your feet play deaf and do something else? Yeah, I may have had one of those sessions. Well, at least the first half. I managed to pull it together for the second half.  I’ve learned, no matter what level you play, you will always have those practices you wish you can start over. All you can do is press on, change your inner voice from focusing on the negative to pumping you up for the moments to come. Focus on things you can control, like your attitude and your effort level.
Tonight at dinner, I had a chance to hang out with a couple U17 Haiti National Team players. I taught them some English and it was just awesome. Annabel is my new little sister. It’s times where I get to slow down and absorb the culture and the beautiful people here that I am floored with gratitude for this experience, for this team.
Oh and I almost forgot. There was a super intense storm today! It started during our practice and the lightening was unreal! And the temperature was still in the 80′s! It was amazing. The sky lighting up with lightening, which usually scared the bejesus out of me, but somehow, here, it was just plain cool.
Another day gone, another day closer to qualifying!

photo 1

Sam’s Blog: Day 4

Day Four: Made It to Haiti!

Isn’t it amazing how traveling tuckers you out? I mean, all you’re really doing is sitting and someone else is doing to hard stuff. That’s essentially all traveling is. You sit. Yet we end up sleeping more than a newborn baby and are still pooped, our appetites get so weird, and airline cookies seem like the best thing that’s ever crossed your lips. Baffles me. But while I’m on the subject of travel, I want to express my appreciation for American Airlines. Why? Because they gave me a legit snack pack…for FREE! And it even had a KitKat in it! Whaaaaaat?! Unheard of now a days!
Training Emblem
Anyway, we’re here!!! We arrived midday and didn’t waste a second. We were on the field, stretching and getting excited to play! It is beautiful here in Haiti. I forgot how vibrant everything is. It is so colorful. From the buildings to the bright clothes and even brighter smiles. And boy oh boy is my Creole rusty! I hope to be fluent again after this adventure…high hopes. The weather is warm, way warm. And right now, it’s 9pm, 81 degrees, and there’s lightening! It’s crazy! But there’s this total peace here. Maybe a calm before the storm that is Haiti winning every single game? I don’t know, just a guess.
We are staying on what they call the “Ranch” in Port Au Prince. It’s actually where I stayed in 2011 when I came here to train, but they have done some serious work on the place. And now there’s an academy here and the kids are absolutely adorable. I can see a couple future National team players in the mix. It must be so nice for them to be training this close to National team players they can just chat with. Imagine just shooting the Breeze with Michelle Akers, or for all those born after the year 2000, with Alex Morgan? Just hanging out? Yeah, I couldn’t imagine that at 9 years old. But these lil ones get to do that and I think that’s the cats’ pajamas!
Ok, time to hit the hay, have an early session tomorrow. Can’t wait!


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