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After Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas men’s national team delivers Nations League triumph

In what is arguably the most memorable victory in the nations history, Bahamas won in the Concacaf Nations League a week after being ravished by Hurricane Dorian

Jurven Joffy from Bonaire (R) and Jonathan Miller from Bahamas (L) fight for the ball during the Concacaf Nations League C tournament match between Bahamas and Bonaire at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau on September 9, 2019. (Courtesy of Concacaf)

From tragedy came triumph.

Nine days after the flooding started and winds swept away lives and homes in the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas men’s national team helped renew its nation’s spirit Monday night with a 2-1 victory over Bonaire to open the Concacaf Nations League.

It may have been the most memorable match in Bahamian soccer history, and it happened at Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, which last week was designated a backup shelter for local area hospitals to treat victims of the hurricane, which killed at least 44 people and displaced countless others across the country.

Monday’s Group C match triumph — the Bahamas’ first victory in a major tournament since it beat Panama 1-0 in the 1974 Central American and Caribbean Games — is a small step forward for a nation just beginning to rebuild. But it was also a moment of relief Bahamian players were eager to provide.

“I was crying, which was the first time, I think, I’ve cried after a game,” 31-year-old player-coach Happy Hall told Pro Soccer USA during a phone interview Tuesday. “For others, especially our younger players, they weren’t happy because we won, it was more based on being able to give our country some joy.

“It was tough to prepare for this game. The power was out at our training facility and we had to cancel practice a few times. Finally we just decided to have practice, but to park our cars right next to field and turn our headlights on so we could see.”

Hall, who works full-time in pharmaceuticals and spent last week working with Bahamian businessmen and international nonprofits to re-stock and bring rescue teams to the archipelagic nation, produced the Bahamians’ opening goal.

Bonaire goalkeeper Rishison Frans batted away a 49th minute free kick into open space in the heart of the penalty area, where Hall emerged instantly to dagger the loose ball into the back of the net with a powerful diving header.

“With my goal, there was pressure,” Hall said. “I had a long week in terms of being involved in the relief effort and trying to get our team sorted and I’ve been on my feet for days. That goal – and that game – are the most emotional of my life. It was a relief when the ball went in.”

Cameron Hepple, a 31-year-old striker who played at Bowling Green University in Ohio and also represented IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in 2009, doubled the Bahamas’ advantage in the 78th minute with a right-footed drive from the top of the box before Bonaire scored a consolation strike in second half stoppage time off a Yurick Seinpaal free kick.

That Monday night’s game happened at all was somewhat of a surprise, particularly since Concacaf had been closely monitoring Hurricane Dorian and remained in contact with representatives from the Bahamas Football Association. The Bahamian national team’s training facilities were also partly flooded last week. And though the players were all accounted for, many, like Hall, took part in relief efforts or searched for friends and loved ones who went missing in the storm.

By the time Hurricane Dorian left the nation and headed north toward Florida and North and South Carolina, Bahamians were surveying the damage, which was at its worse in Abaco and Grand Bahama. Undeterred, the team — nicknamed the “Baha Boys” — resolved to help rebuild and draw attention its homeland.

“There’s pressure to rebuild Freeport and Abaco,” said Hall, who met with representatives from the United Nations Tuesday morning to discuss resource allocation. “It’s going to take the entire country to help rebuild, and we’ve got the UN and other NGOs here now helping us switch from rescue-and-recovery-mode to rebuild-mode.

“But we hope the news of us winning is encouraging and uplifting, and that our game was a space in time where people were able to escape the reality of the hurricane, and worrying about their relatives, and friends and families.”

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