Jems Geffrard ready for HFX spotlight after Gold Cup experience with Haiti

Jems Geffrard’s career highlight will probably not endear him to Canadian soccer fans.

He’s an HFX Wanderers FC defender now, having signed in Halifax from USL side Fresno FC this off-season to make his return to the country of his birth. However, although some fans may not have known his name until that announcement, they’ve certainly been affected by one of his achievements.

Geffrard had already begun to carve out his spot in the Haitian national team when last summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup rolled around, but it was at that tournament where he and his teammates made their greatest impact.

The centre back played every minute of that tournament for Haiti, including all 120 in their extra-time semifinal defeat to Mexico and, of course, their dramatic quarter-final win over Canada.

Here’s the catch, though: Geffrard, born and raised in Montreal, elected to represent Haiti internationally over Canada. Things came full-circle for him when he took on Les Rouges in that knockout match, which ended in a 3-2 Haitian triumph after Canada led 2-0 at halftime.

“For me it was a bigger game than (for) anyone else on the field because I’m Canadian-Haitian,” Geffrard told about that Gold Cup quarter-final.

“It means a lot for me. Coming back to 3-2 was one of the best feelings I could have, and one of the best stories I could share with people. Not everybody’s going to come back from 2-0 playing against his country and winning 3-2.”

Geffrard is eligible to represent Haiti through his parents, who were born in the country. The 25-year-old revealed that, ultimately, he chose to play for Les Grenadiers because of the interest they’d shown in him.

“I had the choice between Canada and Haiti, but Haiti came first and showed a lot of interest, showed me the project,” he explained. “They were willing to build something new, like a new generation, and they wanted me in the project. I was just interested to be part of it. I was really young at that time, and they really wanted me to play and grow with the national team.”

Allegiances aside, there’s no denying that what Geffrard went through with his Haitian teammates last summer will stand to benefit HFX Wanderers. His side earned a reputation for tenacity at the Gold Cup, winning a tough Group B by beating Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Bermuda. They refused to fold against Canada.

And, most impressively, they held Mexico — Raúl Jiménez, Jonathan dos Santos, et al. — to a clean-sheet draw through 90 minutes. Indeed, it was only a soft penalty call in extra time that allowed the foremost Concacaf squad to sail into the final.

Geffrard was right there in the mix with Jiménez when the Wolverhampton striker went down in the box, but a check of the highlights doesn’t seem to incriminate him.

There aren’t too many CPL players who have represented their country in front of 60,000 fans. Although the crowd was, admittedly, rooting heavily for the Mexicans, that kind of atmosphere is a formative one for any player.

“My mind was just like, ‘Focus, man. That’s the time for you to shine,'” Geffrard said when asked what ran through his mind as the seconds ticked away against Mexico. “This is the moment you wanted, that’s what you’re working for, so just be focused.”

Although Haiti wasn’t quite able to hold off Mexico completely, the experience is one that’ll stick with him for a while.

“I had a good time, learned a lot about football,” he said. “The more you’re playing, the more you’re learning.”

Now, Geffrard will hope to bring that mindset into “The Kitchen” of Wanderers Grounds. Now that he’s travelled the world since leaving the Montreal Impact academy — well, travelled to Finland (where he played for Ekenäs IF and Rovaniemen Palloseura) and California, at least — he’s keen to carve out a niche for himself at a club much closer to home.