Nigel Brooks

Happy in Houston, Hainault passed on chance to return home

This article appears in the July 21 gameday magazine. Click here to see the complete magazine.

André Hainault grew up in the suburbs of Montreal. He played hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer with his three brothers, but the boys shared an even greater passion for soccer. Hainault’s talents on the pitch took him to Europe and eventually back to North America, where he became a key man in the Dynamo defense, earning the Dynamo Defender of the Year award in 2011.

The Montreal Impact sought Hainault in a trade this winter, offering a chance for the native son to return to his hometown for the club’s first season in Major League Soccer. But Hainault liked what he had in Houston enough to decline a ticket home and endear himself to Dynamo fans for his loyalty.

Hainault debuted with the Impact in 2004, when the club was in the USL First Division. After making just three appearances with the club he went to England for a trial and a quest for opportunities in Europe.

“I was over in England with a team on trial and things weren’t working out,” he said. “Then all of the sudden a contact I knew said there is a team in the Czech Republic, and they would be willing to bring you over and have a look.”

The team was FK SIAD Most, a club in the town of Most, an hour’s drive northwest from Prague.

“My goal was always to try and get over to Europe, and it worked out great,” said Hainault. “I had three great years over there.”

His stint in the Czech Republic included a loan spell with Czech powerhouse Sparta Prague, the largest and most successful club in the country, with an alumni list that includes Petr Cech, Jan Koller, Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky.

“It was so interesting for me,” Hainault recalls. “I tried to soak up as much of the history and stories of old players who played there, and really everybody (important) came through there. I loved that time, and that was probably the coolest part, playing in the stadium (Generali Arena) where they’ve had some big games.”

Hainault’s contract expired in 2008 and he looked to return to North America to play in Major League Soccer. Hainault has been a regular with the Canadian men’s national team since 2006 (27 caps) and learned of the Canadian contingent in Houston through Canadian national team goalkeeper Pat Onstad.

“I had participated in camps with Pat Onstad before and knew that he was in Houston,” Hainault recollects. “He always raved about it and (Canadians) Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Serioux were there, so there was always a Canadian thing going on here.

“I don’t know who exactly put in a good word, but Houston took my (discovery) rights. I came to Houston and I’m lucky I did because it’s been great.”

Hainault has contributed ever since his arrival in 2009, appearing in at least 20 games per season and offering tremendous flexibility to Dominic Kinnear by playing at all three positions across the back line.

Last October, Hainault faced a predicament when Canadian men’s national team head coach Stephen Hart invited Hainault into camp for World Cup qualifying matches against St. Lucia and Puerto Rico. The games conflicted with a vital road game for Houston against the Portland Timbers in the midst of a surge for a playoff spot. Furthermore, Hainault was battling injuries at the time and could use the extra rest, so he offered to be available for only the St. Lucia game. Hart did not accept Hainault’s offer, causing some debate in Canadian soccer circles.

“It was a tough decision, but I’d do it again if I had to, and it worked out,” said Hainault, now nine months later. “That was a big game in Portland and one that I really wanted to be a part of, and we got a result there and kept it going.”

Hainault had a major impact on the game in Portland, scoring his first goal of the year as the Dynamo left the Rose City with a 2-0 win.  

Hainault and Hart have repaired any ill feelings dating to the call-up controversy, and Hainault has regained a starting spot in Canada’s World Cup qualifying quest. The 26-year-old marvels at the impact qualifying for the 2014 World Cup would have on his home country.

“I don’t think the supporters even realize how big it would be for Canada to qualify for the World Cup,” he said. “I think it could really turn things around for soccer in Canada. Last camp, when I was with the national team, we started thinking if we could qualify it would be unbelievable. We could be heroes.”

Qualifying for a World Cup is mostly black and white- you win enough games and you qualify for the tournament on merit. Winning a bid to host a World Cup is an entirely different gambit, with accusations of bribery and corruption tainting recent bids awarded to Russia and Qatar. Still, Canada would like to host the 2026 World Cup, and the Canadian Soccer Association announced earlier this month that it intends to bid when the process begins in a few years.

“It would be just as big as qualifying for a World Cup,” Hainault stated. “You can’t imagine what it would do for fans there and the money that would be invested in soccer in Canada. There are already more kids playing soccer than hockey in Canada, which speaks volumes.”

Last November, the Montreal Impact selected Dynamo forward Brian Ching with the first pick in the MLS expansion draft. Reports surfaced that the Impact wanted to pry Hainault, the Quebec native, from Houston, and were using Ching as trade leverage. Hainault was offered a chance to return home by Dominic Kinnear, but turned it down.

“Dom was good with me during that time, keeping me in the loop, and letting me know right away that Montreal was interested,” Hainault remembers. “If I had any desires to go back, they’d help me move, but I was clear with them that I didn’t have any desire to go back. We just went to MLS Cup and I was happy here and didn’t want to move, not for more money, not for anything.”

The six-foot defender had received a vote of confidence weeks before the trade rumors began swirling. At the annual Dynamo awards celebration, Hainault was named 2011 Dynamo Defender of the Year.

“I’ll say that was my biggest achievement or individual award that I’ve received because it was voted on by the coaching staff,” he said. “I’m pretty happy and proud about that.”

Hainault was a regular in 2011, appearing in 31 games and playing nearly every minute in which he was available for selection. Early on this season however, he found himself the odd man out in a talented group of five defenders competing for four spots, and was on the bench for consecutive games in May.

“It was tough, but I wasn’t blaming anybody but myself,” Hainault recollects. “I didn’t really have a great start to the season. I was never bitter toward any of the guys or Dom. I just tried to come out and have a positive attitude because nobody wants a Debbie Downer in the locker room.”

Hainault returned to the lineup on May 26 for a highly anticipated game with the LA Galaxy, a rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup final. Hainault scored the winning goal in the second half of a 2-1 Dynamo win and delivered a glorious celebration capped off by a soaring jump, fist pump and primal roar.

“There were a lot of things going on for me that weekend,” he said. “With the afternoon heat, not being in the lineup for the prior games, feeling sick leading up to the game, and I was just exhausted. But when I got that goal I just felt like I could jump out of the stadium.”