COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND —
The top-ranked U.S. men's collegiate soccer team, the University of Maryland, has two Haitian players on its roster who have been making an impact.
The University of Maryland men's soccer team equaled the best start in the program's history, winning 14 of 15 games with one draw. And it has clinched its conference regular season championship
The team has six foreign-born players on its roster, two of whom are from Haiti. One of them, freshman Christiano Francois, was practicing for his high school soccer team on the other side of the bay from Port-au-Prince when the devastating earthquake struck the capital in January 12, 2010.
Francois said a number of his friends died in the tragedy and others lost limbs, so he feels fortunate. All of his family members and their house survived.
Francois came to the United States to finish high school, and was the star forward for his New Jersey team, St. Benedict's Prep, which was also top ranked.
"Since I've been here in the United States, my high school, we were number-one in the nation, and then I came here and we're still number one in the nation, and that's a good thing for me," said Francois. "I really appreciate that, yeah."
While he plays hard, Francois is also focused on his studies.
"That was my dream, to come to America to get an education, because here they have better education [system] than [in] Haiti," added Francois. "I just was really happy to come here to get [an] education and play soccer, to get better every day."
It was his fellow-Haitian Widner Saint Cyr, now in his third soccer season at the University of Maryland, who influenced Francois's decision on where to study and play. Like Francois, Saint Cyr says he is happy with his home away from home.
"It's been a great experience, you know, knowing that back home it's not easy, I mean," said Cyr. "So I'm enjoying it so far, learning from it, and growing from it and everything like that."
Their soccer coach at Maryland, Sasho Cirovski, now in his 20th season at the university, is glad they decided to play for him.
"They're just really special people," noted Cirovski. "And not only do they bring a great amount of soccer talent, but they bring in the locker room, with their experience, a sense of gratitude and humility. They're just so grateful for the opportunity and really grab every ounce of energy."
Coach Cirovski was born in Yugoslavia, raised in Canada and played collegiate soccer in the United States.
"U.S. universities are global institutions and soccer is a global game, so it just makes sense that we're looking for players overseas and the players overseas are looking at us," noted Cirovski. "Soccer is an international language, and even though some of our players are just learning the English language, they fit in perfectly."
Francois is in a program designed for students for whom English is their second language. He and Saint Cyr both say that they eventually hope to play together on the senior national Haitian soccer team. For now, they hope they can help the University of Maryland team win this season's U.S. national collegiate title.