WATERVILLE — Bermuda is an island nation of 20 square miles and 65,000 inhabitants that has yet to participate in, let alone leave its mark on, soccer’s World Cup.

Two Thomas College students are trying to change that. Willie Clemons and Tre Ming were invited to join their home country’s training squad that is preparing for 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Clemons, a freshman transfer from Cape Breton University in Canada, spent the last four days in Bermuda for the national team’s first training camp. Ming, a junior, was invited to join him but couldn’t participate due to a nagging thigh injury. The hope is he can participate at the next training session, which starts Feb. 12 in Bermuda.

In March, Bermuda will play several warm-up matches in Bradenton, Fla. for the CONCACAF regional qualifying play, which begins March 23. The roster will be pared down each step along the way, so competition for spots on the national team will be intense throughout.

Being asked to try out for the team wasn’t unexpected. Both Clemons and Ming are products of Bermuda’s national youth program, having participated in national academy training and playing on various national teams growing up.

“Not to toot our own horn, but I would say it was only a matter of time before we got that opportunity to play,” Ming said. “Mainly, we’re just thankful, I’d say.”

“This is my first time being called up to the senior national team, but I have played in other senior environments,” Clemons said.

Clemons has played all over Europe with his club team, Southampton Rangers, and played with the U-20 national team last year when they played the United States, Australia and Chile in the StubHub Center, the home of the MLS’ L.A. Galaxy.

Ming played for Bermuda’s U-17 team in the Bahamas, Trinidad and Guadeloupe.

“It was fun. It was a nice experience for me,” Ming said.

This opportunity is something completely different, though, said Thomas head coach Chris Parsons.

“These guys are going to be training with players that have gone to school and played Division I through III in the U.S., but also players that are pursuing professional careers overseas and some players that are playing professionally right now,” Parsons said. “For these guys to make that small pool is quite an honor. It’s just going to make them much, much better players playing in that type of environment.”

Bermuda’s best showing on an international stage was finishing second to Mexico at the 1967 Pan American Games. The nation is trying to rejuvenate its soccer program after reaching its lowest FIFA ranking ever, 189th, in 2011.

Despite its struggles, Bermuda’s passion for soccer is as strong as ever, Clemons and Ming said.

“Soccer is Bermuda culture,” Ming said. “Coming up as a kid, that’s basically all you really play, soccer and cricket. You either play one sport or the other.”

“Even if you don’t play football in Bermuda, it’s a spectacle every Sunday,” Clemons said. “Every ground is packed. You’ve got fans, families, and it’s just a great atmosphere.”

Bermuda is probably a few years away from qualifying for the World Cup. “But ultimately,” Clemon said, “the main goal, from what the coach was saying, is to do well in the (CONCACAF) Gold Cup, which comes up after the qualifier.”

Besides helping make their national team stronger, the teammates are eager to prove their talent to the soccer world, which could help make their dreams of making their living in the game come true.

“For me personally, I hope to gain better exposure for myself in pursuit of a professional career,” Ming said. “That’s my ultimate goal.”

“This is just more exposure overseas for me at a higher level,” Clemons said, “and I hope to take it far as well.”

Parsons termed Clemons and Ming “impact players” on a Thomas roster stocked with nine Bermudans.

Ming, an undeclared major focusing on social science, was a North Atlantic First Team All-Star at midfield in 2014 after leading the conference with 12 assists and finishing tied for third in points with 28.

Clemons, a sports management major, enrolled at Thomas in the fall but had to sit out the season as a transfer.

“I’m really looking forward to next year. Watching the season this year, I couldn’t do anything but sit on the sidelines,” Clemons said. “I was so upset. I was itching to play.”

Parsons hopes Clemons is the final piece that next season will help the Terriers advance past the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

“These are two guys that my expectations are they’re going to help us get back to the national tournament next year, and get further into the national tournament,” Parsons said.

Parsons admitted he will be spending the next couple of months hoping Clemons and Ming don’t get injured in Bermuda or Florida. But he’s also hoping he’ll have two Terriers to root for when qualifying begins.

“We wish these guys the best,” Parsons said. “It’s hard for them because they have to juggle school as well as all of the travel. It’s a lot of work for these guys. It’s not easy being a student-athlete in this situation. But we’re really proud of them. Everybody’s behind them.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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