View Full Version : Fabrice Noel: Soccer his future, after grim past

06-03-05, 12:27 PM
By Brian Forbes
Special to The Denver Post

This should be the happiest time in Fabrice Noel's young life.

The 19-year-old Haitian's dream of playing professional soccer is about to come true as he waits for his paperwork to be finalized by Major League Soccer, making him the latest to be signed by Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo.

That dream, likely official by Monday, might have been realized sooner had it not been for a nightmare 2 1/2 years ago.

That's when Noel's older brothers, Luckner and Kenson, were gunned down at their parents' home in Haiti. Noel's younger brother, Jackson, who was 13 at time, was left alive so he could deliver an unforgettable message:

"Tell Fabrice he is lucky this time, and we will get him anyway."

That message is why Noel never returned to Haiti after Nov. 16, 2002, and why he was given political asylum and has been raised by family friends in South Florida.

All alone Wednesday at the Rapids' training complex in Westminster, Noel walked in lugging a big black bag stuffed with things from home - an old travel visa, awards and laminated newspaper clippings of feature stories about him while he played forward at Palm Beach Lakes High School and had an amazing 130 goals and 64 assists in three seasons.

That sense of pride seems to evaporate when Noel tells his story. His voice is barely above a whisper, and his pinky finger nervously finds its way to the corner of his mouth as he tries to explain - for what seems like the thousandth time - what brought him to the U.S.

Noel began playing for the Haitian national team at age 14, about the time he began to play for Racing Club Haitien, one of the country's top teams.

According to Noel's five-page statement written when he was seeking political asylum, a neighbor was a prominent supporter of the Lavalas political party and secretary of rival soccer team Violette Athletic Club.

Noel said several Violette players were active in politics, a combustible sideshow Noel did not want to be a part of. He rebuffed the man's recruiting attempts, incurring threats of violence or death while remaining loyal to Racing Club Haitien.

On Aug. 14, 2002, Noel said the man promised to kill him.

Noel's youthful innocence allowed him to believe the threats were more bullying than brutish, yet he moved out of his house to stay in a location arranged by team president Dadou Jean-Bart.

"If you're really good, every team wants you to play for them," Noel said. "If you say no, sometimes they try to scare you."

Noel traveled to Argentina and the U.S. with the Haitian under-20 team in October 2002. When he called his mother Nov. 16 to arrange pickup from the airport, he learned of his family's fate. His mother warned him not to return home.

"Everywhere I go, they always came," Noel said of his brothers, his voice beginning to crack. "It's really hard."

No arrests have been made in the murders.

Noel's parents and younger brother still live in Haiti, although they have moved. Their location is secret, and Noel must call his cousin, who then relays a message to help them connect.

After Wednesday's introduction to the Rapids, Noel will have some good news to share. After the paperwork is complete, Noel will sign a developmental contract with the Rapids and likely will play with the team's reserve squad. Clavijo projects Noel as a potential impact player. Noel's latest dream is to make enough money to bring his family to the U.S.

In the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, one popular outlet for the Haitian people is soccer. Noel said political figures attach themselves to sports stars to feed off their popularity.

"Soccer for Haitians is the only thing they have," said Clavijo, who coached the Haitian national team in 2004. "They have nothing else to look for right now. They've been many years in denial of what was going on there."

Clavijo said the players, especially rising stars such as Noel, are used as pawns.

Noel still wears a colorful necklace with an "I Love Haiti" pendant.

"I just love Haiti," Noel said with a shrug of his teenage shoulders. "I just like playing."