ST. CROIX - More than 20 minutes after the final whistle and even after all the Haitian fans had cleared the stands, U.S. Virgin Islands midfielder Lishati Bailey sat on the pitch and tried to stretch out the cramps in his legs.
He hasn't worked that hard during a soccer game in a long time. Probably ever.
"Those guys were good," an exhausted Bailey said. "I mean, we've watched those guys play professionally on TV. They're fast and very talented. But we never backed down. I'm proud to say we didn't back down because if we did, it would have gotten ugly."
Maurice Jean scored three goals and Kervens Belfort netted two second-half goals to lead the Haitian national team to a 7-0 victory over the USVI in a Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football qualifying match at Paul E. Joseph Stadium on Friday.
The loss officially eliminated the USVI (0-3) from advancing in the four-player group, which also includes Antigua and Curaçao. It is the farthest the territory has ever gone in terms of qualifying for the World Cup, and the USVI still has three more group matches left.
"Between the Antigua game last month and today, we have nine new players," said USVI coach Terrence Jones Sr., whose team only trailed 2-0 at intermission. "It's a big transition because we didn't get many of the college players back from school. We're still building and we're still going to compete."
The setting was different compared to the teams' previous meeting Sept. 2 in Port-au-Prince. That was the first international soccer match played at Haiti's Stade Sylvio Cator since a deadly earthquake struck the country on Jan. 12, 2010. Haiti won, 6-0, and the V.I.'s Haitian faithful showed up for the event as USVI coaches estimated more than 15,000 fans were in attendance.
On Friday, the crowd that gathered in Frederiksted was a little over 400 fans, and most of them showed their allegiance for the visitors.
"It was an incredible feeling to be playing in another country but to have so much support," the French-speaking Jean said through an interpreter after the match. "Our goal is to keep winning, and I think we took another big step today."
After a long cross landed right on the foot of Jean, he blasted a curling shot into the side netting and proceeded to do a brief celebration dance for the Haitian cheering section. It was his third goal of the match and it came in the 87th minute with the outcome already decided.
"I've never scored three goals in a game before, so it was special," said Jean, who plays professionally in France and posed with USVI players for photos after the game. It was only his third international appearance for Haiti.
It was apparent early on that Haiti had too much speed and too many weapons. They controlled possession from the opening whistle and switched the field with long passes almost effortlessly.
Jean opened the scoring when he headed in a goal off a corner kick in the fifth minute. After a Haitian shot went wide, Kim Jaggy collected the ball near the corner flag, dribbled through USVI defenders and fired a shot that was re-directed and zipped past USVI goalkeeper Dillon Pieffer.
That tally came in the 11th minute, but Pieffer would not allow another until the second half.
"Dillon played brilliantly," Jones said. "Some people may look at the scoreboard and see seven goals, but he kept us in the match the entire first half."
Pieffer racked up 11 first-half saves, including two blocks on one-on-one breakaways as the Haitians peppered the USVI net with numerous shots. Their offensive pressure could be felt on the back line as the Haitians also lined up for 15 corner kicks in the match.
"You should see them play on their home field," Jones said. "They have turf there and their speed is so much faster. Our pitch probably slowed them down quite a bit."
Belfort entered the match at halftime and it took only 12 minutes for him to re-direct a sharp pass from Garrick Mathurin for his first goal. He scored again when he flicked in a penalty kick to put Haiti up 6-0 in the 72nd minute.
The USVI rotated one player on the front line, and its offensive presence was limited. The team finished with only two shots on goal in the game.
"But we learned a lot today," Bailey said. "They are professionals. They eat, sleep and breath soccer all day long and it shows in the results. We are all amateurs and it was just another great experience for us."
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Haiti 7, USVI 0
Haiti (3-0) 2 5 - 7
USVI (0-3) 0 0 - 0
GOALS: Jean 3, Belfort 2, Reginald, Jaggy. SHOTS ON GOAL: H - 21; USVI - 2. SAVES: H - Steward 2; USVI - Pieffer 14. CORNER KICKS: H - 15; USVI - 0.