There was a bizarre twist to one of soccer's great success stories of the year when 13 members of Haiti's U-17 team vanished after arriving Tuesday night at New York's Kennedy International Airport, where they were scheduled to fly to South Korea for an international tournament in preparation for the U-17 World Cup there later in the summer.
After Haitian Football Federation president Yves Jean-Bart appealed on a Haitian Creole-language radio station in New York to the players to "reinstate themselves as soon as possible," the players all returned to the team.
The players reportedly went to a McDonald's near JFK and were taken away in a van in a scheme hatched by U.S. friends and relatives. Two went to Boston, and the others were in the New York area, according to reports.
Haiti qualified for the U-17 World Cup for the first time when it captured one of two berths from a CONCACAF qualifying tournament, along with Honduras, ahead of Mexico, the 2005 U-17 world champion. It was headed to South Korea, where the U.S. U-17s are also scheduled to compete in an eight-team tournament.
The disappearance of the young Haitians recalled one of the great stories of the New York Cosmos. For their opening game at the new Giants Stadium in March 1977, the Cosmos were scheduled to play the Haitian club Victory, but Victory's players disappeared before the game. A group of local Haitians were rounded up and took the field to play the Cosmos, who won, 9-0, before only a few thousand fans in the pouring rain. Steve Ross, chairman of Warner Communications, which owned the Cosmos, knew nothing about Haitian soccer, impostors or no imposter's, and was said to have been pleased with the big win. (The Cosmos did go on to win the NASL title in Pele's farewell season, by the end of which Giants Stadium was packed.)