As the 2024 Clausura season of Liga MX Femenil kicks off in Mexico this weekend, Jamaicans may want to keep an eye out for Reggae Girl Deneisha “Den Den” Blackwood, who impressed Mexican fans and commentators with solid performances for her club, Pumas Femenil, last season.
The 26-year-old left-back arrived at Pumas in early September of last year but she did not make her debut until October 9 due to a period of adaptation and the serving of a suspension related to a violation of FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.
When Blackwood finally stepped onto the field for her first game, her performance was well worth the wait for the fans who watched her play a pivotal role in three of Pumas’ goals during their 6-0 demolition of Necaxa.
Jamaicans, who might have only been familiar with Blackwood’s robust defensive displays at the FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer, would have been pleasantly surprised by her versatility in both defence and attack for her Mexican side. While she was solid at the back, reminiscent of her time with the very defensive Reggae Girlz team in Australia, she was now also bombing forward more often, making decisive passes for her Pumas teammates.
In the 74th minute against Necaxa, Blackwood provided an assist for the fourth goal. Minutes later, her cross into the box would serve as the pre-assist for the fifth goal. In the 92nd minute, she won the ball on the left side of midfield, pressed forward, passed to a teammate waiting just in front of the penalty box who pushed it on to the goalscorer for goal number six.
Her initial impact on the Mexican press watching the game was enough to make her one of the topics of the post-match press conference where Head Coach Jhonathan Lazcano was asked about her performance.
“She should have been playing since the beginning of the season,” Lazcano said. “These are my initial impressions from the match. I believe it confirms
everything I have observed in her since her arrival, so I was thrilled to see her today, very fluid in the attack, contributing, arriving, carrying the ball, delivering crosses, and providing defensive support. That’s why she has been here since we first noticed her, and today she confirms everything that she is.”
The praise came from more than just the coach and the commentators. An article from the Pumas official website highlighted that “the fans applauded her in every play where she touched the ball.”
Blackwood’s versatility and adaptation both as a defensive and offensive player would be a consistent feature of her game for the rest of the season even as Pumas experienced varying results.
In fact, in her next game against Queretaro, Lazcano was even more innovative in his use of the Jamaican left-back. She not only played high up the pitch for long periods, resembling a winger or left midfielder at times, while reverting to her defensive left-back role on other occasions, but also found herself playing on the right side of midfield at one point.
Queretaro defeated Pumas 3-2 in that match but Blackwood remained impressive, particularly with her crossing and dribbling.
Misfortune would strike in the following game against Chivas, however. In a flurry of action following a corner kick against Pumas, the ball hit the post and bounced off Blackwood’s back into the net for an own goal in the second half. But 20 minutes later, while defending against another corner, the Reggae Girl redeemed herself with a headed clearance off the line. Nevertheless, Pumas succumbed 3-0 to Chivas.
It was after this challenging match for Blackwood that Pumas experienced a turnaround in fortunes, securing consecutive victories against Atletico San Luis and Juarez. This late surge propelled them into the play-offs at the very last moment of the regular season. However, their play-off adventure was cut short with an early exit, falling to eventual champions, Tigres, in both legs of the quarter-finals.
But the inconsistencies of Pumas last season did not detract from Blackwood’s steady performances in attack, the useful verticality and directness of her play, her adaptability to different positions on the pitch and her consistently strong defending.
Those with some knowledge of her career to date would not be surprised by her versatility. During her college days in the USA, Blackwood played as a forward and midfielder producing prolific goal scoring numbers. Upon her departure from Navarro College, she held the sixth position in career goals with a total of 36, earning All-American honours twice.
In her early professional career she also alternated at times between attacking positions and left-back.
Yet, it is not just tactical adaptation that counts in success. Off the pitch, successful adjustment to a new team in a new country with a foreign language and foreign culture also contributes to achievements on the field. Blackwood’s professional experience spanning the United States, France, and the Czech Republic is a strength she can lean on.
This was exemplified in a short documentary produced by Pumas as a prelude to their play-off match against Tigres. Blackwood, who appeared in the film, spoke on camera revealing how she copes with professional demands far away from family and home.
“As an international, I feel like anybody would say it’s hard to be away from family,” she said. “But I feel like for me I have been doing this for so long I kind of get used to the feeling. Obviously I do miss them a lot but I feel like I am in that place where they kind of understand my situation and that kind of puts me at ease a little bit, that they know what I am doing and they know that it’s for them, and yes I miss them, but it’s also for a greater cause and I can be here and do what I do.”
“I still talk to them and I know it’s not the same as seeing them, but talking to them kind of just fills that void still.”
Pumas, under the guidance of new head coach, Marcelo Frigério, will face León on Monday in their first match of the Liga MX Femenil 2024 Clausura season.