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Bulls Abroad: Derrick Etienne fires Haiti past Nicaragua

For a span of about 20 decisive minutes in the first half, all Derrick Etienne did was torment Nicaragua’s back line.

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Nicaragua denied Haiti a place at the 2017 Gold Cup, so Les Grenadiers returned to Managua with something of a point to prove to themselves. They lost out the last time they played in Nicaragua because they couldn’t score a goal and because Juan Barrera scored three for the home team in the game’s closing minutes.

Derrick Etienne came off the bench for Haiti in the second half of that match in March 2017. He started for Les Grenadiers against Nicaragua in November 2018, and was a big part of the reason this game had a happier ending for his team: a 2-0 win is a lot better than last year’s 3-0 loss.

It took a big save from Johny Placide to keep Nicaragua from scoring first, but Haiti’s nerves were quickly settled. In the 12th minute, Etienne deftly picked a long pass out of the sky, volleying it into the six-yard box to trigger a moment of panic in the Nicaragua back line. An entirely inadequate clearance found Mikael Cantave, who fired into the net for the visitors.

The advantage seemed destined to be short-lived when Wilde-Donald Guerrier let his temper get the better of him and was sent off in the 16th minute. But even down a man, Les Grenadiers continued to find opportunities. Etienne’s 25th-minute shot from the edge of the box found its way on to the highlight reel but not to the back of the net. Scarcely five minutes later, the New York Red Bulls attacker started and finished a counter-attack to double Haiti’s lead. Etienne carried the ball over the halfway line, played a wide pass for Duckens Nazon to run on to, and then weaved into space between five Nicaraguan defenders to head home Nazon’s cross.

If that run between defenders looked familiar to RBNY fans, it’s because it was.

Etienne played the full 90 minutes, picking up a yellow card in stoppage time, as Haiti successfully defended the lead and defeated the memory of 2017’s meltdown in Managua.

The win keeps Les Grenadiers perfect in 2019-20 CONCACAF Nations League Qualifying: three wins from three games. It also trips up one of the primary challengers to Haiti’s position in the top six of the CNL Qualifying table (a top 10 finish is good for a place at 2019 Gold Cup; a top six finish guarantees both a Gold Cup berth and a place in League A of next year’s Nations League): Nicaragua had won its first two matches of the competition, and now its perfect record is broken.

There aren’t many perfect teams left in CNL Qualifying: seven out of the 34 sides in the tournament at the midway point of the third round of matches. And there will be at least one fewer by the end of this round because two of the teams to have won all their games to date will meet on November 18: Canada and St Kitts and Nevis can’t both have 100% records at the end of their match-up.

Haiti will meet another opponent with a perfect record in the next round of CNL Qualifying: Cuba is Les Grenadiers’ opposition in the final round of the competition. To prepare for that and presumably have a look at some of the underused players in the squad after the Nicaragua game, Haiti is heading to play El Salvador in San Salvador on November 20.