Former Auburndale star leads Haiti into Copa America

Haitian midfielder Pascal Millien, left, went to high school at Auburndale and helped lead the Bloodhounds to the 2005 state championship. At 30, he’s now helped get Haiti to its first Copa America tournament.


By James Bennett, Jr.
Ledger correspondent
Published: Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 10:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 10:17 p.m.

In high school, Pascal Millien led Auburndale to its first state title in 2005 and was the Florida Gatorade soccer player of the year.

On Saturday, Millien, a 30-year-old midfielder, will lead his native Haiti into its first Copa America tournament against Peru at Century Link Field in Seattle.

“It was a long journey,” said Millien, who has been with the national team since 2006. “For the first time ever. When you were growing up and your parents and your grandparents were always looking forward to watch the Copa America, now they are about to have a chance to watch you on the big stage. It’s a memorable feeling. I’m blessed and grateful to be able to help my country to qualify.”

The Copa America tournament pits the six best national teams in North and Central America against 10 South American national teams in locations across the United States. The tournament runs today through June 26. For the first time in the tournament’s 45 years, the field has been expanded to 16 teams.

Haiti was the underdog in its Jan. 8 Copa America playoff match with Trinidad & Tobago in Panama, but Millien assisted Kervens Belfort’s goal in the 86th minute that clinched Haiti’s first Copa America berth.

“To represent your country, getting ready to be a part of one of the biggest competitions in the world, it feels so good. I’m happy to be a part of this thing.”

Millien was 16 when he moved from Leogane, Haiti, to Winter Haven.

“Pretty much it was a half and half,” he said. “I did two and a half years high school and I had a chance to study in college. It’s been a beautiful journey.”

Millien plays his professional soccer with the Jacksonville Armada, a team in the North American Soccer League, one level below Major League Soccer. After Auburndale, Millien was an NCAA Division II All-American during his time with the University of Tampa. He’s won a league championship and played in the 2012-13 Europa League with Ireland’s Sligo Rovers. He played in Bangladesh with Sheikh Russel KC in the AFC President Cup final. He joined Jacksonville in 2015.

After qualifying for the Copa America, Millien’s Les Grenadiers were matched in Group B with Brazil as the seeded team. This led to celebration for Haitian fans. Brazil was the country’s biggest supporter during Haiti’s 2004 coup d’état, a time when Haiti received no financial assistance from the United States or the World Bank. Brazil also was a haven for many Haitians who left their country after the 2010 earthquake left 1.5 million people without homes. In 2015, Brazil granted permanent residence to 43,000 Haitians who entered the country illegally during the previous five years.

Because of this, and because Haiti last scored a World Cup goal in 1974, there are many native Haitians who are fans of Brazilian soccer. The two teams will meet in Orlando next Monday, and Millien said that the game will a huge one for his country.

“We know there are a lot of Haitians, people in Haiti, they really support Brazil,” he said. “For them to see us play Brazil, it’s going to be I think one of the best moments in their lives. They get to watch their own country go against a team they’ve been supporting for the past few years. It’s going to be something special for everybody.”

But Millien noted that Brazil is Haiti’s second match of the group stage. Haiti’s ultimate goal in the group stage of the tournament is to earn a win on the first and be in good position to advance to the knockout stage, he said.

“We play Peru on Saturday and that’s our main focus,” Millien said. “It’s a must-win game for us. After that, we can think about Brazil.”


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