Derrick Etienne Sr. (middle), when his children Derrick Jr. and Danielle were much younger, will get an opportunity to see his son play in the Gold Cup. (Photo courtesy of Derrick Etienne)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Derrick Etienne, Sr. has it all planned out.

“I come out of the pulpit I’m going straight to the airport,” he said.

If everything goes according to plan, Derrick Etienne, Sr.’s plane will land at the Kansas City International Airport on time at 5:36 p.m. CT.

When he is finished with Sunday services at the Latter Glory Church of Paterson, N.J., of which he is co-pastor with his twin brother Darrell, he will head off to Newark Airport. When he gets to Kansas City, Derrick will drive to Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

He has an important match to watch – his son, Derrick, Jr. play for Haiti against the United States in the opening game of the Concacaf Gold Cup for both teams.

A former Haitian international himself, the senior Etienne understands the importance of donning the national jersey. This game is doubly important for him. While he made eight appearances, Derrick Sr. never played in a Gold Cup.

“It’s always exciting to watch him play,” he said Saturday morning. “It’s a different expectation when he’s with the national team. You represent in Haiti. Anytime he’s playing with the national team, I’m excited, the whole family’s excited. It’s such a big honor in his Gold Cup. It’s definitely a moment that he’s been waiting for. We are excited to see how you know he progressed from the last Gold Cup to this one.”

Derrick Sr., 46, also never played against the U.S. men’s national team in an official match although when he was with the Long Island Rough Riders, the USL team played in an exhibition game against the national side at the N.Y. Hota/Bavarians field in Franklin Square, N.Y. in 2004, Rain, however, forced the match, already in progress, to be washed out.

His son has never faced the U.S. before, but the elder Etienne felt Haiti will put up a good fight and acquit itself well. The Haitians booked a spot in Group B by defeating Bermuda, 4-1, in a final Preliminary Round game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Tuesday night.

“The one thing about Haitians is we have that level of confidence that we can play with anyone,” he said. “One of the things Derrick was quoted at the last Gold Cup is that ‘We respect every team, but we fear no team.’ So, there is a hope and there is an expectation of getting out of the group.”

The U.S. men’s national team will deploy essentially a B team as the high tier players are resting for their European seasons and for when World Cup qualifying begins for Qatar 2022 this September.

“Knowing that U.S. and Canada, you know even Martinique, for that matter, you know have strong teams,” Derrick Sr. said. “But we’re confident. This group of Haitian players playing against the U.S. is definitely something that we look forward to.

“Derrick looks forward to [it] for a long time, obviously, not being considered to play for the U.S. And Derrick making the decision to play for Haiti, this is an opportunity for him to showcase who he is as a player against some of the best in this country. So, it’s an exciting time. He’s looking forward to personally play well. But more than for his own personal, agenda per se. He’s really here for hopefully Haiti to get a good result.”

Signed by the Red Bulls in 2016 in what can be called their golden generation of Homegrown players, Derrick Jr. played four seasons with the club before he was loaned to FC Cincinnati during the 2019 campaign. He was released by the Red Bulls after that season and picked up by the Columbus Crew. Derrick helped the team capture the MLS Cup, scoring a goal in the final, a 3-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC.

Derrick Sr. is proud of the way his son has handled himself in difficult situations.

“It’s been great to watch his maturity because you hear all the time that soccer is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental,” he said. “I think his mental toughness has been challenged through his career. Even in the [Red Bulls] Academy, it was similar situation where you can see his talent you know what he brings to the table. But [there were] always questionable decisions. But he always rose above that. This mental capacity to be able to go through adversity to plow through it.

“That’s one of the things that we teach as a family. In life you will have adversity, you will have tribulation but it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond that matters. He’s been able to respond on the academy level, and he’s responded, even on the pro level with Red Bull in difficult times.

“And then, with Columbus. When his option wasn’t picked up in Red Bull, he pretty much had to start all over again in Columbus. He was able to meet the challenge and impress the coaches and was a solid contributor to help win the MLS Cup.”

Derrick Jr., 24, who made his international debut with Haiti in 2016, has scored five goals while earning 29 caps.

“Now we’re seeing the same thing with Haiti,” his father said. “It’s difficult when you’re a Haitian player born outside of the island. It’s a lot of different challenges of trying to mess with the players and just to become a part of the whole experience. So, for him to go from being a player coming off the page, to now being a main player wearing the number 10 jersey is a testament to his maturity as a player of learning from the adversity and being able to seize moments that come.”

The Latter Glory Church hasn’t had a live in-person session since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, although the Etienne brothers have plans to return to normalcy as soon as this summer. The church has held Sunday services via a live streak on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

“So, we’ve been able to stay connected through technology,” Derrick Sr. said. “Thankfully, that’s been available to us. I don’t know what we would have been able to do if this happened 10 years ago. So having the level of technology enabled our church to stay connected through the social media, through Zoom.

The Etiennes felt it was better for their congregation’s health to continue to have services online.

“We’re looking to have in-person services, right after the summer,” Derrick Sr. said. “We’re looking at August or September to start back in person. It’s affected us been able to come together for fellowship, for corporate worship. But we have been able to still stay connected via social media.”

Here are two related stories:

THE ETIENNE CLASSIC: When this family gets together a competitive match, not a friendly, usually breaks out


ONE MAN, TWO PASSIONS: One man, two passions: Derrick Etienne, Sr. found a way to combine a soccer career with being a pastor