Sports

Teenagers soak up chance to represent The Bahamas

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The Bahamas’ senior national men’s soccer team just completed its first window of the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Nations League competition on Monday with a 4-0 loss to Nicaragua in Managua, Nicaragua. The 14-man squad held its own against a nation that call ‘fútbol’ its second sport after baseball.

Among those 14 Bahamian players were teenagers Vance Wheaton, Jordin Wilson, Kenaz Swain and Michael Massey who played with a lot of heart against squads that have veteran and professional players. There was also the element of the Nicaraguan fans who were loud in support of their team. Wheaton played goalkeeper for the entire game and could not get his center backs, Lesly St. Fleur and Evelt Julmis, to hear him most of the time, due to the loudness of the fans in the Nicaragua National Football Stadium.

Wilson is the youngest of the four players at age 16. He has played in all four games in the first window and played the full 90 minutes on Monday. He said he was happy for the opportunity to represent his country at the senior level at such a young age.

“It’s a good feeling,” Wilson said. “It’s an honor and good experience and it’s a good lesson going forward. If you’re playing with these guys young, then, when you’re older, you should be flying, so it’s looking good. I was pushing … getting that experience to help prepare me for the next level and bonding with other people. It’s been a great experience.”

The midfieder’s first game was against St. Vincent and the Grenadines when The Bahamas won 1-0 at home at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. He came on as a substitute in the 86th minute of the game.

“I was quite excited and nervous at the same time because you turn around and you see all your family and friends and everyone. When I got on the field, it all just came to me, so I knew I had a role to play and help the team win,” Wilson said.

The former Lyford Cay International School (LCIS) student-athlete, who now attends IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, says playing for The Bahamas is bigger than playing for IMG. He plays in competitive games for IMG but for The Bahamas, he is up against professional players at a higher level. 

Wheaton was on the team as a third string goalkeeper. He missed the first two games because the number one keeper on the team Julio Jemison was the primary player in goal for The Bahamas. Jemison got injured in the third game at home in a 2-0 loss to Nicaragua last week Friday. Oliver Townend replaced Jemison in goal. For the away game against Nicaragua on Monday, Wheaton got the start because Townend did not travel.

“I wasn’t expecting to get many minutes,” Wheaton said. “I was the only keeper going on the field. The pressure was on, but I tried to relieve some of that pressure because I’m not the only one on the field – we’re a team. We do everything as a unit and Monday night was going to be the most important night of my life as it had the potential to be a crucial decider for offers to schools for university and so on. It may even lead to hopefully a professional path.”

Wheaton handled the pressure well and made some good saves in the game. He had to face two penalty shots that went in but it was not a bad showing for the 17-year-old who started goalkeeping in November 2020 on a trial basis. He said he is grateful to Avery Kemp who coaches the goalkeepers on the national team. Kemp was working with Wheaton from November 2020.

“It’s an honor to wear the colors of my country and to play for the national team,” said Wheaton. “It was my dream to play for this team and to play in an environment like that of Nicaragua. I played a few minutes against St. Maarten back in March and that feeling was just so incredible. I knew that I was going to have to experience that feeling again. I did it for the entire 90 minutes and I embraced it.”

Wheaton’s teammate at LCIS and Renegades Football Club, Michael Massey, brought the energy on Monday night in the midfield. He was fearless going after the ball from players bigger and stronger than him. That was not the first game that he played in during the first window of the CONCACAF Nations League. Massey’s debut was when he came on in the 80th minute as substitute player against Trinidad and Tobago in Trinidad. He remembered the commentator, former Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster, saying that he, Swain, Wheaton and Wilson are indicative of the bright future for The Bahamas in soccer.

“It’s an absolute honor to be given the opportunity to represent your country that you’ve grown up and adored. I loved every second of living there despite my family coming from Europe and moving to The Bahamas. I call it home, so it’s an absolute honor,” Massey said.

Massey returned to The Bahamas and played for the country for the first time on Friday against Nicaragua. He came on as a substitute and embraced the opportunity to play in front of the Bahamian supporters.

“I think being given the chance to play for 400,000 people back home is something that only a very small percentage of the country will get to do. It’s an incredible feeling and to experience it with a lot of my close friends as well that I’ve grown up playing football with, is something else,” said Massey.

Both he and Wheaton are entering grade 12 at LCIS.

Swain attends Kingsway Academy and is entering grade 12. He played for the first time on the senior men’s team during this window. He made his debut against Trinidad and Tobago, coming off the bench. Swain said he learned a lot about the game since training and playing for the men’s team.

“It gave me exposure and advanced my game. It got me new tactics and new ways to move the ball with purpose and intent. Being on the team taught me how to take care of my body, go to sleep and how to have better conversations. It was good to surround myself with a bunch of guys who went off and played soccer. I have improved my game,” he said.

The right back embraces the opportunity to play for his country. Playing at home on Friday against Nicaragua gave him some confidence and eased his nerves, he said.

“I was less nervous playing away than at home,” Swain said. “Playing in front of the home fans with your family and friends supporting you is a great feeling, but it was a bit nervous. Overall, it was a better feeling at home.”

The next window for the CONCACAF Nations League is in March 2023. Up first will be a home game against Trinidad and Tobago, then there will be an away fixture against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The quartet looks forward to being named to the team once again and representing The Bahamas for a sport they love to play.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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