Jamaica Team Guide

By July 19, 2023
Jamaica's Head coach Lorne Donaldson Jamaica's Head coach Lorne Donaldson

Jamaica's Reggae Girlz takes the spotlight in our Fifa Women's World Cup build-up feature today. The Jamaicans will be making a second-consecutive appearance at the global showpiece set to get under way on July 20 and end August 20 in Australia and New Zealand.

Overview

They are no longer the only Caribbean team to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, but Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz will be the first from the region to make a second-consecutive appearance at the finals. Ranked No 43 in the world, they are a much more formidable group than that of 2019 and the squad features several US- and England-born players with Jamaican heritage that were not a part of the team which made a historic appearance in France.

The squad is similar to the one that competed in the qualifiers, winning all but two games – a 5-0 group stage loss to the United States and a 3-0 semi-final loss to Canada – at the Concacaf Women’s Championship in Mexico. During that tournament, Jamaica registered a 1-0 win over the host nation and also bettered Haiti 4-0 and Costa Rica 1-0 on their way to a third-place finish.

In total, the Jamaicans scored 30 goals and conceded 10 between the first phase of qualifying and the Concacaf championship and were again led by the talismanic striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who ended the qualifiers with 12 goals.

Since then, the head coach Lorne Donaldson has brought in a few young prospects in 19-year-old goalkeeper Liya Brooks, 18-year-old Solai Washington, 19-year-old Kameron Simmonds and 22-year-old Peyton McNamara, all of whom impressed in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Jamaica have always banked on their speed and athleticism to open up opposing defences, particularly from the wide areas and it will certainly be more of the same in Australia and New Zealand, especially with the addition of fleet-footed players Washington, Simmonds and Kalyssa van Zanten, who can be lethal from the bench.

Still, Shaw, as always, will be the focal point in the attack and, much like she did at the 2019 showpiece when she assisted Havana Solaun to score a historic first goal against Australia, she could make a difference against their more illustrious Group F opponents if is she is able to get on the ball close enough to goal.

The defence has not always been the team’s strong point and while Donaldson and his assistants have done their best to beef up the backline, it basically remains the same as that of 2019, with the exception of Tottenham goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer and right-back Tiernny Wiltshire. Strong performances can be expected from the former captain Konya Plummer, who recently returned from maternity leave, but is looking raring to go. Much is also expected of her fellow defender Allyson Swaby, who is strong in the air and resolute on the ground.

Without doubt Jamaica remain one of the biggest underdogs at the World Cup, but they are certainly not going to the tournament accepting defeat, especially with the 2019 experience now under their belts.

The coach

Lorne Donaldson was born and raised in Jamaica where he started his playing career at Kingston College and Cavalier FC, before moving to the United States where he entered Metropolitan State University of Denver (he was inducted into MSU Denver’s Hall of Fame in 1995). He went on to play for the Denver Kickers, where he won the 1983 National Amateur Cup, and Jamaica.

He later started his coaching career as an assistant at Metro State Roadrunners in 1983 and has not looked back since, managing Colorado Foxes, Colorado Rapids and Real Colorado Foxes, along the way. 

Donaldson was introduced to the national women’s programme on the recommendation of ambassador for Jamaican women’s football Cedella Marley in 2014, along with previous head coach Hue Menzies and the two guided the Reggae Girlz to their historic qualification in 2019.

Both later left the programme for various reasons that involved the Jamaica Football Federation, but Donaldson expressed a willingness to return provided the conditions were different.

In July last year, he replaced Vinimore “Vin” Blaine at the helm, a few weeks ahead of the crucial Concacaf Championship, after the players released a letter expressing dissatisfaction with Blaine’s leadership.

Star player

The Guardian’s first female Footballer of the Year in 2018, the first player from the Caribbean to win the Concacaf Player of the Year Award in 2022, and Jamaica’s all-time leading scorer with 56 goals, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw’s career is one of bumps, bruises and of course, tremendous success.

The 6ft striker’s physicality and speed of thought had set her up for a dazzling career from a young age – aged 14 she played for Jamaica’s under-15, under-17 and under-20 teams. She made her debut for the senior side on 23 August 2015, scoring once in a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic. She has lost siblings to violence and accidents but used those tragedies to fuel her passion for football.

During the 2019 World Cup in France, Shaw signed a two-year contract with FC Bordeaux and ended her second league season with 22 goals and seven assists in 20 matches, winning the top goalscorer award. She then joined Manchester City where the now 26-year-old continues to show her class, scoring 31 goals in 30 games last season and being named the club's player of the year.

Rising star

At 18 years old, the US-born midfielder Solai Washington is the youngest member of the squad and is one of the up-and-coming players to look out for at the World Cup. Still in high school going into her senior year, Washington first joined the setup at a camp in Florida this year and hasn’t looked back. She possesses great ability and works hard on and off the ball in a manner that belies her age.

Did you know?

Thirteen of Jamaica’s 23-member squad will be making their first World Cup appearances. That number includes the five England-born players – Rebecca Spencer, Vyan Sampson, Atlanta Primus, Drew Spence and Paige Bailey-Gayle. Also of note is that Cheyna Matthews, like she did in 2019, has returned shortly after giving birth to make the World Cup squad.

Standing of women’s football in Jamaica

Women’s football in Jamaica came to life in 1991 when the Reggae Girlz played their first international match against Haiti, losing 1-0. Since then, they have become one of the top teams in the region, and currently boast their second highest ever Fifa ranking at 43. They achieved their highest ever ranking at 42 last year.

There have been bumps on the road, however, and in 2010 the women’s programme as well as the women’s Olympic programme were disbanded by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). At that point, they were at their lowest ranking of 128 but the country was later removed from Fifa’s world rankings after three years of inactivity.

The programme was restarted in 2014 with the support of Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley. Marley’s robust fundraising efforts eventually helped the Reggae Girlz achieve their historic World Cup qualification.

Realistic goal at the World Cup

While it seems a daunting task for Jamaica to get out of Group F and into the last 16, they are expected to prove more competitive than they did in 2019 and the collective goal is to at least take points off one of France or Brazil. If they can do that, confidence is high that they will get the better of Panama in their final group game. So, the realistic aim for the team known for its stubborn determination and passion is to prove their doubters wrong by getting beyond the group stage.

 

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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