Thanks in large part to the support of Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella Marley, Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz are about to compete at the World Cup for the first time ever. While it’d be far too optimistic to expect them to pull off any kind of shocker in Group C, if you consider Jamaica’s status (or lack thereof) on the world stage just a few years ago, this accomplishment in itself is absolutely tremendous.
Ranked 53rd in the world by FIFA—their highest spot yet—the Reggae Girlz are debuting here after a miraculous third-place finish in last year’s Gold Cup, coming just a few years after the team was restarted with fundraising efforts from Marley. In their home country, women’s sports have struggled to win financial support, and that lack of resources has kept the soccer team from being internationally active from 2008 to 2014.
This trip, then, will be more about building morale and excitement for the team back home than it is about making a deep run, because Jamaica are stuck in a very formidable group with Australia, Brazil, and Italy. Featuring a roster filled with scores of America-born players and plenty of youth, this Jamaican team might be a fun underdog to bandwagon for during the opening few games of the tournament, but only provided your expectations aren’t too high.
Goalkeepers: Sydney Schneider (UNC Wilmington Seahawks), Nicole McClure (Sion Swifts), Yazmeen Jamieson (Papakura City)
Defense: Lauren Silver (Trondheims-Ørn), Chanel Hudson-Marks (Unattached), Konya Plummer (UCF Knights), Deneisha Blackwood (Unattached), Dominique Bond-Flasza (PSV), Allyson Swaby (Roma), Toriana Patterson (Pink Sport Time)
Midfielders: Chantelle Swaby (Rutgers Scarlet Knights), Havana Solaun (Klepp), Chinyelu Asher (Stabæk), Ashleigh Shim (Unattached), Marlo Sweatman (Szent Mihály), Sashana Campbell (Maccabi Kishronot Hadera)
Forwards: Jody Brown (Montverde Academy), Khadija Shaw (Unattached), Tiffany Cameron (Stabæk), Trudi Carter (Roma), Cheyna Matthews (Washington Spirit), Olufolasade Adamolekun (USC Trojans), Kayla McCoy (Washington Huskies)
The Reggae Girlz
Everybody paying attention to Group C is going to have their eye on 22-year-old forward Khadija “Bunny” Shaw—her nickname earned through her front teeth and her love of carrots. Standing at 5-foot-11, the University of Tennessee product’s height alone would draw notice on the pitch, but it’s her prolific goalscoring record of 31 goals in 22 caps that’s creating plenty of hype for her debut World Cup showing.
Shaw’s already been through far more tragedy than anyone her age should have to handle, losing four of her brothers and two nephews before she’d even turned 20. But since arriving in America as a college student, she’s already made a name for herself as the most exciting female Jamaican soccer player of all-time.
Bunny has everything you’d want in a striker—the creativity and determination to beat packs of defenders by herself, a jaw-dropping right foot, and a knack for finding herself in the perfect places at the perfect times. (That tall head certainly helps on corner kicks.) She won’t be facing SEC and Caribbean defenses in France, of course, but her transcendent talent should still find a way to make noise.
In their ideal form, Jamaica play a fastbreak-friendly 4-3-3 that relies on speedy wing players to crack defenses from out wide, and they’ve shown that they have no issues running up the score against lesser competition. But in this tournament, where they’ll be seriously outgunned, it’s more likely that they sit deep, play conservatively, and try to strike quickly whenever they force a change of possession. Most importantly, for Jamaica to steal some points against their more established opponents, the pressure will fall on Shaw to create and convert her chances, whenever they may come to her.
June 9, 9:30 a.m.: Brazil vs. Jamaica at Stade des Alpes
June 14, noon: Jamaica vs. Italy at Stade Auguste-Delaune
June 18, 3 p.m.: Jamaica vs. Australia at Stade des Alpes
All times Eastern