Look down the roster that took the field for the 2020 Haitian women’s soccer team at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying and you will find just one United States college player: Danielle Etienne, freshman midfielder at Fordham.
After helping lead Haiti to a spot in the Qualifiers this past year, Etienne was called up once again to the Haitian Senior National Team and will take the field later this month in the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship.
Etienne may be a new face at Fordham, but her soccer career has been many years in the making. Like many others, Etienne first picked up a soccer ball in her early years, at age 4 to be exact. “Of course during this time I was excited about soccer and wanted to play professionally, but I don’t think I completely understood at the time,” Etienne said. That excitement may have been from her surroundings, as Etienne has soccer in her blood. Her father, Derrick Ettiene, is a former footballer and brother Derrick Ettiene Jr. is a midfielder with the Columbus Crew SC of Major League Soccer. Both also played for the Haitian national team.
However, while Etienne is no stranger to soccer, her decision to pursue it professionally was all her own, charting a path for herself in the women’s game both at Fordham and internationally.
Head Coach of Fordham Women’s Soccer Jessica Clinton first saw Etienne play a few years ago with the New York City Football Club Developmental Academy and was immediately impressed. “They moved her all over the place, playing in the back and central midfielder, and wow, this kid was versatile … tactically smart.” Not only was she versatile, but technical, with the ability to explode and keep up with the intense speed of play. Clinton saw a player who would fit right into the Fordham system and possibly become a “core player in the A-10,” boding well for Etienne and where she wanted to go in the future.
In the early stages, that future was not entirely known. “Sometimes you know players are going to be professionals,” Clinton said. “At the time there was a couple of call-ups, but it wasn’t on our radar.” As the recruiting process continued, things would begin to take shape.
For Etienne, middle school was likely the “time that I 100% sure wanted to take soccer as far I could go, collegiate, professional and national team.” Fordham was a great place to make that happen, both on and off the field. Thanks to those like Clinton, teammates, advisors and more, Etienne has “felt accepted into the team and truly a part of the Ramily.”
Etienne recalled some of her favorite moments from this past season, “going from classes to training and traveling for games, the thrills of winning, even the disappointment from losses, and building bonds on and off the field with truly amazing young women.” Etienne’s off the field fun has come with on-field improvement, as Clinton’s biggest concern with Etienne was defense. Due to the success of her club team, that was never really much of a need. The same could be said for physicality, something that plays a significant role at the collegiate level. Etienne has adjusted to both.
“There is a major jump to the college game, but she has learned to defend pretty well. Physicality took her by surprise, but she had been training with boys, timing her tackles and handling people going after her… we’ve been lifting a little more too,” Clinton said.
Clinton now feels a sense of comfort playing through Etienne in the midfield, something that will only improve with future years as she develops into a leader. There is perhaps no place better to get that experience than playing on an international stage and against the reigning World Cup champions: the United States of America.
“We would joke in training sessions, how are you going to prep for Julie Ertz,” Clinton said. The national team would take care of Etienne tactically, and all coach Clinton had to do was keep her healthy and ready to play on the big stage both mentally and physically.
Perhaps the toughest test came in that first game against the U.S., as Etienne was tasked with guarding the 6’0” Sam Mewis, a challenge for the 5’3” Etienne.
Against the world’s best, Haiti stayed strong, trailing by just one goal with 25 minutes remaining and even having one of their own rescinded — with the referees on call later being sanctioned — ultimately falling 4-0. Coach Clinton would know because she was there herself, making the trip to Houston not only to support Etienne but also build a scouting report of those at the top of the sport. Etienne could do the same, providing Clinton with her experiences on the field and analysis of the speed of the play, which will certainly benefit Fordham as they strive to play against premier squads themselves.
Haiti would ultimately fail to qualify for the Olympics but still ended its run with a 6-0 victory over Panama and an invaluable journey for Etienne.
“I can honestly say that I have learned so much from my experiences with the Haitian National Team. I value every aspect of being with the team,” she said.
One moment in particular stands out to Etienne: team initiation, where each player stands before the squad and sings and dances.
“I definitely value this experience because it gives players the opportunity to laugh and enjoy being brought into the team,” Etienne said.
Along with the memories of camaraderie came an essential set of life lessons.
“Take advantage of every opportunity to play because you never know when that opportunity will no longer exist, the way you conduct yourself does not only reflect on yourself but your family, your team and your country,” Etienne said.
Etienne will carry these experiences forward and back onto the Rose Hill campus, where she recently returned before the U-20 Championship. For Clinton, the time with Haiti was equally essential for one of her most experienced, although youngest, players.
“In a CONCACAF interview, she spoke about going into training sessions as if they were going into a final every game … mentality can get lost in the college game, but this is the goal for the future,” the Fordham coach says.
Coach Clinton finished by saying, “Our players are proud of Dani.” Etienne also has much to be proud of herself, but even so, she looks to continue to improve.
“I will take these experiences and lessons and apply them both in my soccer career and in my life, taking advantage of every opportunity I am given and giving my best,” Etienne says.
That next opportunity will be at the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship kicking off later this month and come fall time, as one of Fordham’s own.