Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
For Haitian soccer star, Ricardo Pierre-Louis the game of soccer became an opportunity for hope. An opportunity to make wrong things right, experience a new world, gain an education, and bring healing to his homeland. In many ways, soccer also helped bring him closer to Jesus. His inspiring story is one of triumph that unfolds against the backdrop of tremendous obstacles.
A Hunger for Change
Pierre-Louis grew up in poverty-stricken Leogane, a city with a population of ninety thousand, just nineteen miles west of the capital city of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.
"Nearly every child in Haiti knows that you are not guaranteed to eat each day, and it was no different for me.
There were times my father didn't arrive home in time with the day's earnings, so my mother would not have money to buy food for my two sisters, my brother, and me."
Sometimes Ricardo and his siblings would eat bread. Other times they would mix mud with salt and bake it just to stay alive. His father and mother worked hard to try and provide for his family, but the opportunities were just so scarce in Haiti, at times it felt like a hopeless cause.
The way out for Ricardo as a young child was education. It was his parents and in particular, his mother, who encouraged him to focus on his education as the avenue by which to break free from the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.
Ricardo entered the ultra-competitive educational environment in Haiti, where only a select few are given the chance to continue in schooling. Through hard work and encouragement from his parents, he was accepted into school and was able to eat a couple of meals as a result. There was some hope.
A Star on the Pitch
More hope was just on the horizon. It was through his education that Ricardo gained exposure to the game of soccer, which in Haiti is almost like a religious experience.
Ricardo was first exposed to the game as a young child while attending school. Soon however he discovered that he had a gifting to play the game. He started off playing barefoot "street soccer" matches but before long the secret was out.
He got a chance to tryout for a club team called Valencia, but he was told after several tryouts that he wasn't good enough. What appeared to be another setback for the promising young star would only serve as further motivation. A rival club team called Cavaly recognized his talent and gave him a shot.
As fate would have it the two clubs squared off in the City Championship. Ricardo scored all three goals as his team defeated the team that said he wasn't good enough, 3-0. "That match was a real triumph for me," Ricardo said. "It felt as if I defeated something from my past that had been haunting me."
The success at Cavaly was just the beginning. Ricardo's soccer stardom continued to grow, and he was chosen to tryout for the Haitian Youth Team and then in 2002, he got the shot to play with the national team.
All totaled Ricardo spent nine years with the Haitian youth and national teams and had 48 caps with the senior national team. He experienced playing against the world's greatest stars in the Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying, and the Caribbean Cup. Ricardo matched up against legends like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Ronaldinho Gaucho, and Brazil's Ronaldo Luis Nazario.
The culmination of Ricardo's time on the national team came in August of 2004 in a match known as the "Game of Peace". With Haiti submerged in violence and chaos from political corruption and upheaval, the country and the United Nations looked to the game of soccer for healing. A match was set between Haiti and the defending World Cup Champions, Brazil. Normally, a team of Brazil's stature would not play in Haiti, but the Brazilian government was well acquainted with the suffering of the nation and hoped the match would help bring peace to the unrest and violence. Ricardo got the chance of a lifetime to play against the world's best. He spoke with the legendary player, Ronaldo, and played in front of over 50,000 people in Port-au-Prince.
The "Game of Peace" did achieve, at least for a moment, its goal of spreading peace through the game of soccer. The violence and chaos calmed in the weeks following the match. In many ways though, it helped shape Ricardo and showed him what can be accomplished for his homeland through the game of soccer.
From Lee to the Pros
Ricardo came to Lee in 2005 and immediately elevated the Lee men's soccer team to heights previously unattained by the program.
He was discovered by former Lee men's soccer coach Henry Moyo, while playing for the Haitian National Team in Charleston, S.C. in the spring of 2005. He was brought to Lee, barely able to speak any English, but with a determination to not only succeed in soccer but in the classroom as well.
Succeed he did. Ricardo graduated as the program's all-time leading goal scorer with a remarkable 101 goals in just three seasons. The team won regional championships and advanced to national tournaments while he was named an All-American each year. He also excelled in the classroom, graduating cum laude as a business major. He was later inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame and became the first Lee player to play professional soccer when he was chosen by Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew in the 2008 Draft. The Crew would win the MLS Cup that same year and Pierre-Louis and his team went to the White House to be congratulated by President Obama.
Ricardo's faith, which was dormant during his teenage years in Haiti, was bolstered and revived through his journey at Lee. "God was always present on the Lee campus," Ricardo noted. "His presence was a reminder to learn and grow every day."
As impressive as his on-the-field accolades were (Haitian National Team star, 3x All-American, Hall of Famer, and MLS Draft Pick), it's what Ricardo accomplished off the pitch that makes his story quite remarkable.
Beyond the Game
Ricardo would meet his wife, Nika, at Lee. The couple married after college and started a family. Eventually, they would move back to Nika's home state of North Dakota, where Ricardo would earn a master's degree in Business Education from the University of Mary. After graduate school, he pursued his passion for education and helping young people by becoming a teacher at Bismarck High School in 2017.
When it came time to hang up the cleats after a short stint playing professionally with the Crew and in a semi-pro league in Cleveland, Ohio, Ricardo had peace. "Soccer took me around the world, lifted me out of poverty, and helped me gain an education in America. It might seem like the end of a dream, but I had played soccer for the opportunities it brought me, not just for the career," he said.
Some players struggle with what to do when they can no longer play the game they love, but Ricardo Pierre-Louis is far from an ordinary player. The opportunities the game created for him were about to open up a far bigger dream than playing professionally.
After moving to Bismarck, N.D., Ricardo started Magic Soccer FC, to help teach kids the game of soccer and important life skills. The club made an impact on the children of Bismarck, but Ricardo never forgot where he came from, nor the responsibility to give back and try and offer some hope to children in Haiti who were just like he was as a young child. With the same fire and passion he used on the pitch to become a soccer hero, he started a Magic Soccer Academy in Verrettes, Haiti.
Ricardo, alongside his wife Nika, and Haitian community leader, Berthony Duvelsaint, used the success of the Magic Soccer Academy to build Lespwa Lavi, which means, "Hope For Life" in 2013.
"We wanted the children to develop into good citizens of character, a true asset for the future of Haiti," noted Ricardo.
The goal is to equip and prepare students to transform their community and the world for the glory of Jesus Christ. To provide an environment for all soccer players to achieve their potential. To meet basic community needs in the poorest region of Haiti and to unite the communities of Verrettes and Bismarck, N.D., and other communities in the United States.
If Ricardo's story was just about his accolades on the field, it would be a worthy one to tell. Despite his renowned soccer resume, it is what Ricardo has done and continues to do after his playing days that makes his story truly remarkable. His story speaks to the power of hope.
For Ricardo, the game of soccer gave him hope and opportunities that allowed him to go from poverty to a Haitian soccer star.
And that is a hope that he continues to share with everyone he meets.
Read more about Ricardo's inspiring story in his book Hunger for Hope and find out how you can chip in to help him bring hope to Haiti at lespwalavi.org