Woodland, Georgia Southern product making impact for U.S. Virgin Islands National Team

When Zahmyre Harris got an email from reps at the U.S. Virgin Islands national soccer team a few years back, he wasn’t really sure what to think.

He’d only even been to the Caribbean territory three or four times to visit his dad’s side of the family as a kid. 

Nonetheless, he was intrigued.

"At first I was surprised because I didn’t know they had a team," the Woodland High School and Georgia Southern product recently told FOX 5 Sports. "They had hired a new coach. He’s a very good coach. When I did my research and found out who the coach was I was excited and I believe the same week that they reached out I flew out to go to a camp."

And he’s been playing with them since his debut at 18 years old, traveling from home in Atlanta, to college in Statesboro, and to the Virgin Islands once or twice a month now.

"I would say it’s different because I’ve never been there this long or this often," Harris said. "I’ve been going once or twice a month. It’s a great feeling to be in touch with my roots. That’s part of what I enjoy the most, is having my family watch me play because they haven’t seen me play here in the States."

On Harris’ resume are World Cup qualifying matches, CONCACAF matches, and a stint with the Virgin Islands’ Under-23 Olympic team.

"It’s surreal. It’s something you kind of never get used to, especially when we’re playing a team with big-name players," he said. "When you go to those games, you have so many fans watching. It’s a great feeling."

Harris has had a few ‘welcome to the pros’ moments, playing some deep, talented countries whose teams have been around a lot longer than the Virgin Islands. But he’s excited to be a big part in his team’s rebuilding mode.

"The last camp we had, we were competing with every team we played, with us being 5-10 years younger than most of the teams we played, so I think that was like my moment that it made me really excited about the future because I believe we have an advantage being young and building chemistry together as opposed to their players are 30 and older and they’re on their way out," he said. "In a few years, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with."

The team has developed so much in recent years that the USVI Soccer Association officially opened the 1,200-seat Bethlehem Soccer Stadium in 2019, and Harris believes they’re already outgrowing it.

"It’s actually great. The stands are usually full," Harris said. "Even during Covid, there was no open seats in the stands, so I believe it’s only going to grow."

Sharon Harris, whose weekends have revolved around her son’s soccer schedule since he was 3 years old, hasn't been able to see her son play for the national team yet in-person due to her work schedule, though she "stops everything" to stream his games live online.

This June, she's excited to join the crowd of Virgin Islands supporters this June for CONCACAF Nations League C play, since she’s been bringing the hype since he played at Woodland.

"I was the loudest one here," she said. "When they played, sometimes the other team would be like, ‘Can we pay you to cheer for us??’ And the team, they’d always look for me, because I’m up and down, I’m up and down, cheering them on to get them hype and really get them into the game."

This week, the first round of CONCACAF Nations League "C" play kicks off in Curaçao. It's the lowest of the three levels in the 40-team CONCACAF, the confederation of North American, Central American and Caribbean teams that is one of six FIFA continental leagues. At stake is a chance at advancement to League B as well as qualify for the next CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifiers later in 2023.

As for what’s next after CONCACAF play is through in June, Harris said he’s in the process of negotiating a home club contract, and he even hinted with that he may stay in Georgia.