Imagine a Gold Cup final with two New York Red Bulls players, and better yet imagine one of the players lifting the trophy under the confetti. Just imagine.
Haiti midfielder Derrick Etienne Jr. is bolting toward United States’ 18-yard box. He’s known to be a jokester, but at this moment, you’ll mistake him for a killer as his dark brown eyes are glowing with immense determination.
He made it to the Gold Cup final with a country most people wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t even make the Gold Cup. The final isn’t against any other team but the country where he grew up, the United States of America.
The best part is that it’s not just any American defender waiting for him on top of the box, it’s his New York Red Bulls teammate, Aaron Long.
Long stands on top of the box with his right foot forward, eyes glued on the ball. The United States cannot lose to a country they’re expected to beat, especially after losing to a team they were supposed to fly by, Trinidad and Tobago, 2-1, and missed out on the last World Cup on Oct. 10, 2017. They need the Gold Cup to make up for it … well kind of make up for it.
Just three years ago, Long was playing in the USL. Now, he’s in his first ever tournament with the U.S. and has a chance to hoist a trophy for the first time at the highest level, a chance to take his unexpected stellar career to a whole new level.
Similarly, Etienne Jr. has never won a trophy at the highest level—the only time both players actually won a title, they did so together when the Red Bulls second team won the USL in 2016.
The Haitian-American is having an in-and-out of the lineup career with RBNY in which he only made 55 appearances in four seasons. You can bet he’s craving for the Gold Cup. Haiti is craving for the Gold Cup.
Etienne Jr. is now right in front of Long. Perhaps they experienced this moment hundreds of times at practice, but this time is when it actually matters, it’s for their national teams, it’s for a career boost-up.
Etienne Jr. cuts on his left, Long sticks out his right foot.
The Gold Cup final is not set yet, the first semi-final wasn’t even played yet. But New York Red Bulls can dream of this final: U.S.A. vs. Haiti, Etienne Jr. vs Long.
Both players put up strong performances in the tournament so far. Long made the group stage Best XI, netted two goals against Trinidad and Tobago and with his help the U.S. has yet to concede a goal in four matches.
Etienne Jr., on the other end, changed Haiti’s opening match against Bermuda as a substitute, playing a major role in both of the team’s goals of a 2-1 comeback victory. He then forced an own goal versus Nicaragua in the next match after making a brilliant run. Haiti won that encounter, 2-0.
Les Grenadiers topped their group before rallying back for an unexpected 3-2 win over Canada in the quarter-final.
They’ve been the most entertaining Cinderella team of the tournament. As for U.S.A., they started their Gold Cup campaign by doing what is expected of them, rolling over teams. But then they racked two unconvincing 1-0 wins against Panama and Curacao.
It’ll be interesting for these two countries to meet each other in the final with of course Long and Etienne Jr. the center of New York’s attention.
However, it would take a lot for this final to happen. The 101st placed team in FIFA’s ranking, Haiti would have to beat the 18th placed team, Mexico. Looking at Mexico’s past results, there’s hope for Haiti. El Tri slimmed by Costa Rica, 5-4, in penalty kicks in the quarter-finals—a team Haiti beat 2-1. And Mexico defeated underdogs Martinique with an unconvincing 3-2 scoreline in the group stage.
So that Haiti vs. U.S.A. final could happen. Let’s say Haiti made the final with a 5-3 PK win over Mexico. Etienne Jr. scored the winning penalty. (If we’re going to dream, we might as well give the winning PK to a Red Bull player, right?)
Haiti vs. U.S.A. isn’t the only final that could feature Red Bulls players on both sides; Jamaica vs. Haiti can, as well. Lawrence would be going against Etienne Jr. They would be channeling on opposite flanks hence the chance for them to meet face to face would be slim.
Lawrence already took on RBNY right back Amir Murillo in the quarterfinal. Jamaica won the encounter, 1-0. Both RBNY players logged in a full 90. Lawrence isn’t the only Red Bull player Murillo lost to, but he also bowed down to USMNT defender Long.
Now Long and Lawrence will go against each other in the semifinal on July 3. These two countries have an interesting history in the Gold Cup. The U.S. downed The Reggae Boyz, 2-1, in the 2017 Gold Cup knockout stages. Jamaica trimmed past USMNT, 2-1, in the 2015 Gold Cup stages. Lawrence played in both fixtures.
Similar to Etienne Jr. and Long, the Jamaican hasn’t won a trophy at the highest level yet. Therefore, RBNY have three players fighting to win their first major silverware. Only way the Red Bulls won’t have a Gold Cup champions is if Mexico wins the Gold Cup.