HARRISON, N.J. — Haiti made history Monday night, topping a group for the first time in seven Concacaf Gold Cup appearances when it rallied to defeat Costa Rica in front of 17,554 fans at Red Bull Arena.
Les Grenadiers leapfrogged the Ticos on the final day of Group B and will face Canada in the quarterfinals Saturday in Houston. Costa Rica, which would have won the group with a draw, will meet Mexico, also at NRG Stadium.
“I think it’s a confidence boost,” New York Red Bulls winger Derrick Etienne Jr. said. “Costa Rica is a very good team, they showed that. We were able to get a win, a good team performance and we just showed that we’re willing to fight.”
The match was a thrilling display of attacking soccer from both sides, leading to a multitude of chances on either end of the stadium. Costa Rica jumped ahead in the 13th minute courtesy of an own goal by Haitian defender Djimy Bend Alexis.
But the 21-year-old who plays for Capoise in the Haitian league went from unlucky goat to hero late in the second half when he scored what proved to be the winner.
“I’m pretty sure this is one of those days he’ll remember forever,” Haiti coach Marc Collat said through a translator.
Disappointed in the effort in the opening 45 minutes, Haiti regrouped in the locker room at halftime and the second half belonged to them. Duckens Nazon leveled from the penalty spot in the 56th minute after he was knocked over in the top-right edge of the box by Chicago Fire defender Francisco Calvo.
With Costa Rican goalkeeper Leonel Moreira diving the other way, Nazon buried his attempt in the opposite corner.
Haiti continued to probe for the winner as their fans drowned out the Ticos support. Les Grenadiers constant pressure in the second half finally paid off in the 81st minute. Etienne, who had 40-50 family members in attendance, played to Alex Christian.
The defender sent a low ball across the six-yard box where New York City FC fullback Ronald Matarrita tried to stop it. But the ball deflected off his foot and into the path of Alexis, who blasted the ball under the crossbar.
“There were obviously two different halves,” Collat said. “The first half was more of a half for Costa Rica, they were a bit more involved and the second half belonged to Haiti.”
Now Haiti goes from celebrating a first-ever Gold Cup win over Costa Rica to preparing to meet a Canadian team that also has high aspirations in the competition. Canada finished second in Group A behind Mexico.
“Canada is a very good team. We’re going to celebrate tonight, but tomorrow it’s back to preparation and back to grinding,” Etienne said. “We’re going to watch some film, see what their weakness is and what we can attack and see what their strengths are and make sure we’re able to stop that. I think it’s going to be a very good matchup and we’re looking forward to it.”
Costa Rica need to regroup to take on a Mexican team that convincingly won Group A with three wins. The Ticos have never beaten El Tri in seven all-time Gold Cup meetings, losing six times.
“The confidence is still there,” FC Cincinnati defender Kendall Waston said. “Disappointment happens and it’s the way we respond from it is what matters. This is going to help us a lot to wake up.”