Jalen Harvey helped set up a goal and stood out on Bermuda's back line in a 5-0 World Cup qualifying tournament win over Bahamas.
March 26, 2015
CHICAGO - You couldn't blame Jalen Harvey if he tossed and turned a little in his sleep on the eve of his first World Cup qualifying soccer match.
After all, the talented DePaul junior and Bermuda-born athlete has been competing with the island's national team since 2013 when he led Bermuda to the NatWest Island Games gold medal.
Last summer, he represented Bermuda in the National Training Center Invitational in California in matches against Australia, Chile and the USA.
Now Harvey was approaching the pinnacle of his sport.
Through hard work and sacrifice, Harvey started at left back for Bermuda's national team in Wednesday night's 5-0 victory over Bahamas in Nassau during the opening round of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup regional qualifying tournament.
A win or a tie in Bermuda on Sunday against Bahamas will send Harvey and his teammates onto the second round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) World Cup qualifying tournament June 8-16 against Guatemala in another home-and-away series.
"It feels great to win my first World Cup qualifier," Harvey said. "It was a big win in front of Bahamas' home crowd, and it proved we can succeed in that kind of environment. All our guys demonstrated their experience, played their roles very well and it came together for a great result."
Harvey's back-line partner Dante Leverock headed in the first goal in the fourth minute off a corner kick. In the 15th minute, a Bermuda penalty kick made it 2-0.
In the 20th minute, Bermuda had a free kick that was sent towards the near post where Harvey drilled a shot directly at the near post.
"It was just like the goal I scored against Providence last fall," Harvey said. "But the Bahamas goalkeeper made a nice save and put it out for a corner kick."
Nine minutes later, Bermuda made it 3-0. Early in the second half, Harvey set up the fourth goal.
"I beat my man and sent in a penetrating pass," Harvey said. "That was my best play of the match. I had several options, but that was the most dangerous pass I could have played. That goal kept our intensity going and kept our foot on the gas."
Bermuda's back four led by Leverock and Harvey combined to lock up Bahamas striker Ian Winder.
"The most important thing to me is getting the clean sheet," Harvey said. "This was only the second game the four of us have lined up in the back, although we have played with and against each other growing up. We are best friends on the team with a good chemistry and understanding of what it takes to keep us a strong unit.
"Our right back and center back play locally in Bermuda. Our other center back, Dante Leverock, plays professionally for the Harrisburg (Pa.) City Islanders in the United Soccer League (USL). These are my guys, and I hang out with them in the hotel and all over.
"Against Bahamas, we knew when to shift, when to cover and had each other's backs. In our first game together at a practice match against Grenada two weeks ago, we impressed coach Andrew Bascome as a unit. In the two matches as a unit, we haven't given up a goal."
Should Bermuda finish off Bahamas on Sunday and then advance past Guatemala, round three of the World Cup qualifying tournament is Aug. 31-Sept. 8 with another series of home-and-away matchups featuring the 10 second-round series winners joined by No. 7-ranked Jamaica and No. 8 Haiti.
The top six CONCACAF national teams (No. 1 Costa Rica, No. 2 Mexico, No. 3 United States, No. 4 Honduras, No. 5 Panama and No. 6 Trinidad & Tobago) enter the tournament in round four along with the six teams advancing from round three. That phase runs from this November to September of 2016.
The top two teams from each group in round four qualifies for the final round (November of 2016 to October of 2017) where three CONCACAF nations will advance directly to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia with an intercontinental playoff spot for the fourth-place team.
"In preparations leading up my first World Cup qualifier, I would say I was nervous," said Harvey who had a hat trick that included the golden goal in last fall's 3-2 win over Drake. "But I feel that I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to have two great performances against Bahamas. It's a great honor to represent Bermuda in the World Cup qualifying tournament.
"But a couple hours before the game, I wasn't as nervous as I thought. I was more excited to play than any game in a long time. I'm usually real quiet, but this time I was really fired up."
Harvey's primary role with Bermuda is to launch attacks from the left wing while also hustling back on defense.
"This position and the style that we play---I love getting up the field and I get to attack a lot," Harvey told the Royal Gazette newspaper. "It involves a lot of work, making sure I get back and everything---but I'm cut out to do it. One of my things is my fitness, so it's not a problem for me."
Bascome's philosophy and style demand a lot from his players in work rate along with the discipline of getting back to defend. Harvey told the Gazette he has been given "a license to attack" and hopes to repay his coach's trust in him.
"I'm extremely excited to be able to constantly attack as necessary," Harvey told teh Royal Gazette. "Every soccer player loves the chance to get forward, especially defenders. Being able to get forward often as a defender is extremely appealing, and I'll have chances to get an assist or a goal.
"Of course, it takes a lot more running. But once you get into the intensity of a game, I don't worry much about how much running I've done."
He also did some flying back and forth between Bermuda and Lincoln Park in locking up his spot on the national team.
"Over the winter quarter, international players were invited back three times," Harvey said. "Because our academic schedule at DePaul is so hectic, I chose to travel back only two of the three times. But that proved to be enough to make the final team.
"We arrived in Nassau last Sunday in order to get used to the hotter climate. It was 65 degrees in Bermuda and 82 in Nassau."
Most of Harvey's teammates play outside the island.
"The majority of our team is based in other places such as the USA, England and even Norway," Harvey said. "Only a small amount of our team is constantly training in Bermuda.
"For those of us who are based internationally, our coaches must trust that we are getting the proper training wherever we are. I feel training with the DePaul players and coaches prepared me for this opportunity. I believe playing in such a competitive conference as the BIG EAST has helped me to play at the international level."
Harvey's performance in the World Cup qualifier brought a big smile to the face of DePaul soccer coach Craig Blazer.
"This is a very significant accomplishment for Jalen and his family---as well as the DePaul men's soccer program," Blazer said. "Jalen has worked very hard and improved his performance with us every season.
"With this international World Cup qualifying experience, it is very exciting to see just how far he can go."
Harvey played his high school soccer at the renowned South Kent (Conn.) prep school where he helped lead the Cardinals to a 19-0-1 season and the NEPSSA class B championship as a senior while being selected to the NEPSSA Senior All-Star Game. As a junior, he finished with 21 goals and 15 assists.
"Jalen has always been a very athletic and gifted soccer player," Blazer said. "The progress he has made in building a total awareness of the game is a credit to him.
"We will continue to rely on Jalen helping solidify our back four. Last year, he also played winger and forward for us. That just shows his depth and versatility as a player."