Former USMNT midfielder Fernando Clavijo did his best to hold the Haitian national team together during its World Cup qualifying run in 2004. (Photo By Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports Copyright (c) 2007 Byron Hetzler)

Like it or not, national tragedy has followed the Haiti national team when it has played in the United States. In wake of the assassination of Haiti president Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday, here is a story about what transpired in the Caribbean country after its national team won a World Cup qualifying match in the USA on Feb. 22, 2004. Haiti meets the  USMNT in the Concacaf Gold Cup Sunday night.

By Michael Lewis

IALEAH, Fla. – The Haitian national team thought it was safe and far from the chaos that envelopes its homeland, but even the players learned they could not escape the violence’s devastating effects.

Only three hours before Haiti met Turks and Caicos in a World Cup qualifier Saturday night, midfielder Peter Germain discovered his home in Saint-Marc had been burned to the ground during fighting.

“When I first heard the news I cried a lot. Immediately after I had to think about the game,” Germain said after a 2-0 victory that clinched the total-goal series, 7-0. “That was very important. I will have plenty of time to reflect on what is happening back home.”

Germain said his family and friends left town and were safe.

“Despite the tragedy, my motivation was to be sure that I played a very good game, to be sure my country qualifies,” he added. “My main focus was on that. The tragedy had to take second place.”

When he became coach, former MetroStars assistant Fernando Clavijo realized he would encounter challenges directing a team from the world’s second poorest nation.

“It never crossed my mind it would be like this,” he said. “It’s incredible.

“If you cannot be concerned with their problems, you cannot be human,” added Clavijo, a U.S. naturalized citizen born in Uruguay. “I feel myself Haitian today. I feel their pain. They are everything we (Haiti) have. We can bring happiness to many people in incredible situations.”

Seven players returned home to their families, but they must be back before the team leaves for Sunday’s friendly in Nicaragua.

“It is so hard,” Clavijo said. “If my wife is at home in Haiti, and I have two kids, I will go. I don’t care how bad it is. We cannot kidnap them and keep them here.”

Clavijo’s responsibilities go beyond coaching. “If I do not do the visas today or tomorrow, they most likely won’t be done properly,” he said. “I’m prepared for everything.”

Home financial support has ceased and unpaid training expenses reportedly are at least $200,000.

“The biggest challenge is to anticipate what is going to happen the next day,” said Clavijo, who is owed salary. “Forget about next month. Every day something new happens.

“The thing that keeps me going is the players. We have a great group. They have touched me. I feel when I look at them that we have an opportunity to do something wonderful here.”

That something wonderful is to qualify for Germany in 2006. Haiti played in the 1974 WC in West Germany, but faces a long road. The Haitians must overcome Jamaica in June just to reach the final 12 Concacaf semifinal-round teams.