The job of coaching a national soccer team isn't easy under perfect conditions. There's the arduous qualification process, tricky player selection, tactical adjustments, overseeing the youth system, etc. etc.
Now, imagine how difficult that job would be with the added responsibility of trying to restore hope and pride to a nation devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in modern memory.
That's precisely the task ahead for Gaspard D'Alexis, who assumed the head coaching duties for the Haiti women's national team this month. He left this morning for the Dominican Republic to work with the team ahead of the next round of qualification for the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup.
D'Alexis, who was born in Haiti but lived in Canada most of his life, is the director of coaching for the Omega Athletic Club in Kansas City. Before that he founded the first women's league in Montreal and he played professional soccer in France. He's lived in the KC area for the last 8 years and was featured in a front-page story in The Kansas City Star on January 14 in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti that killed tens of thousands. His family, like many others, suffered losses in Port-au-Prince.
The national team job is a task he feels that he's ready to take on. He understands that his first priority is "bringing hope to the country."
Late last month, the women played two qualifying games in the Dominican Republic, where the team has been living and training, beating Turks & Caicos 5-0 and the Dominican Republic 2-1.
The games were immensely important to the overwhelmingly Haitian crowd — D'Alexis estimated Haitians outnumbered Dominicans 3-to-1.
"After (the victory over the Dominican Republic), there were five young men celebrating and happy," D'Alexis said. "Then one of them said 'Where do we stay?' They had no money. Nowhere to stay. But they were happy because they won."
Hope is an important thing, and D'Alexis agreed that his most important task for now is the humanitarian role of showing that life can, and should, move forward. But there are also other matters for D'Alexis to attend. Namely, rebuilding the whole women's soccer team.
While none of the players were killed in the quake, many in the soccer federation were. The soccer stadiums themselves are filled with tents as refugees still have no place to call home yet.
And then there are the players themselves.
"You have girls that are hurt mentally," D'Alexis said. "They may seem okay, but they" are suffering. All of them have harrowing stories of survival and loss.
Continued advancement for the women is important from a financial standpoint as well. Many of them are earning the only money that their family has to spend on food. Sometimes, that's not much more than $200 per player for the entire tournament.
D'Alexis firmly believes that "everything happens for a reason."
If the earthquake would've hit Port-au-Prince 30 minutes earlier, when kids were still in school, the damage might have robbed Haiti much of its future.
But many children survived, and they need to know that there is something to look forward to now as the country starts to rebuild. And soccer will play an important part.
"If you look at video or pictures of kids," he says, "even though they have nothing to do. One thing they can do, they are playing soccer."
The next phase of qualification for the CONCACAF Gold Cup is scheduled for May 10-14. Haiti will play Puerto Rico (May 10) and Cuba (May 12).
This article originally appeared on the Kansas City Star website, www.kansascity.com.
Gaspard played soccer for eight years at the professional level including the U-21 World Cup in Japan as a member of the Canadian National Team. At the university level, Gaspard was twice voted an All American – he was team captain for 4 years and a candidate for the Herman trophy given to the best soccer player in all USA universities. Gaspard played in the US College Soccer Senior Bowls indoor and outdoor. He was selected four times for the All New England team. Despite playing mostly central defense, he finished as one of the top ten scorers in school history at Plymouth State U., NH.
Coaching experience includes Head Coach and General Manager of Laval Dynamites in the W-League. It was the first women's semi-professional soccer team in Canadian history. Among other experience, he represented professional players in various professional leagues and served as a Diaspora recruiter for both the men's and women's Haitian National teams.
Gaspard holds Bachelor degrees in Business Management, Marketing and Sports Management.