On Sunday, January 8, 2017, Derrick Etienne scored a goal. The 20-year-old has scored goals before, including several in the year or so since he agreed to a pro contract with the New York Red Bulls. But this goal was his first at the international level: his first for his national team, Haiti.
"Scoring my first international goal was amazing," Etienne told Once A Metro, "When the ball hit the back of the net, I was so excited I didn't even know what to do. I was kind of lost."
To be fair to the RBNY Academy product, there was a lot going on. Haiti had fallen behind early in a key game against Trinidad and Tobago. The match was played in Trinidad and the crowd was very much in favor of the home team. Etienne's goal was Haiti's (first) equalizer in a back-and-forth game that saw both sides regularly stretched over the course of 120 minutes. Les Grenadiers prevailed, 4-3, to advance to a 2017 Gold Cup qualifying playoff (against an as-yet-undetermined Central American opponent).
But the Haitians didn't know they would win when Etienne scored. All they knew was they had conceded a goal in the first minute and might have conceded a couple more before their 20th-minute equalizer stalled T&T's momentum. And if they lost to the Soca Warriors by two goals, they would lose their shot at Gold Cup qualification.
At RBNY - well, mostly for NYRB II, the Red Bulls' reserve team for whom he has played most of his minutes as a pro to date - Etienne has a signature goal celebration: The Hotline.
There was the faintest whisper of a Hotline celebration as he jogged back for the restart after scoring in Trinidad. But his immediate reaction looked to be mixture of joy and relief. Les Grenadiers were back in the game.
Etienne scored because he conjured a confident finish in a pressured situation. But he also had a hand in creating the opportunity for himself. He was alone in space in the T&T penalty area because of a quickly taken free kick that caught the Soca Warriors' defense out of position: "KB [teammate Kervens Belfort] was fouled and the Trinidad players were really arguing with the ref. I called for the ball, he played it, and I was able to put it top corner."
The rest - as shown around the 1:24 mark in the highlight below - is history.
The young Red Bull is just over a year into his career as a professional soccer player (he signed with RBNY in December 2015). Against T&T, he was playing just his fourth senior international - and the most significant yet for his national team. The Soca Warriors were not easy on their opponents.
"I was expecting them to come out and battle, since they needed two goals and a win, and that's exactly what they did," said Etienne, who was yellow-carded in the second half after taking one hit too many and emphatically voicing his concerns to the referee. "There was a talented group of players, and they gave us a lot of trouble."
Also troubling to the Haitians was the tournament schedule: they had played just two days before the match against T&T. On short rest, Les Grenadiers seemed exhausted as the 90th minute approached. The Soca Warriors were surely tired too, but had at least had four days to prepare since their first game in the competition. The rules of the tournament did not allow for draws, so a 2-2 score at full-time would send the game into extra time.
From the stands, Haiti didn't look at all ready for another 30 minutes - not least because T&T was transparently playing out the last minutes of the 90 to ready itself for an all-out charge for the two goals it needed from extra time. But Etienne - who watched most of the overtime periods from the bench, after being subbed out for fresher legs shortly after extra time kicked off - said his team had readied itself for the task: "Playing two games in three days was pretty tiring. Because of the battling and challenges in the game, I do think we were more fatigued than Trinidad, who had more time between games," he said, "We knew they needed more goals, so in extra time we wanted to keep the ball - and if we get a chance, to capitalize and kill off the game."
Two chances were ultimately taken, and they did kill of the game. Haiti moves on to a (not yet scheduled) playoff for a Gold Cup berth, and Derrick Etienne turns his attention to the year ahead with his club: "What's next for me is to get ready for preseason and battle for some minutes."
His recent performances for Haiti have surely boosted his profile within the national team set-up. In January, Les Grenadiers were forced to field a younger, less-experienced squad than their presumed best XI, but players like Etienne have made a strong case for inclusion in future rosters. And he'll be ready when his country comes calling: "As for international play, hopefully, [what's next is] getting more games and more goals."