Balancing act!
Coach says mix of youth and experience critical as Girlz head down under for Cup of Nations
Jamaica Captain Khadija Shaw (right) controls the ball as Paraguay’s Maria Martinez closes in during the friendly international at the National Stadium on Sunday, November 13, 2022. Shaw will lead her team in the Cup of Nations in Australia next month. (Photo: Observer file)

WITH Reggae Girlz Head Coach Lorne Donaldson and his technical staff signalling their intention of reshaping the player pool and, by extension, the culture around the team, the onus is now on the veteran players to prove that they belong on the team for the Fifa Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in the summer.

For those players, the focus is no longer on what they did in the past but what they can do now to show Donaldson and his assistants, Xavier Gilbert and Ak Lakhani, that the new talents can't displace them.

Such has become the case as Donaldson and company listed seven players with three caps or less in his 24-member squad for the Cup of Nations tournament in Australia next month, including debutantes Solai Washington — the younger sister to midfielder Giselle Washington — and Brighton & Hove Albion central defender Victoria Williams.

In order for these new prospects to get playing time it means veterans accustomed to being marquee pieces in a squad will play somewhat smaller roles or might even be at risk of not making the final cut for the global showpiece, scheduled for July 20 to August 20.

Tiffany Cameron, Kayla McCoy, Chinyelu Asher, Yazmeen Jamieson, Sashana Campbell and Marlo Sweatman are among those who are often key figures on a Reggae Girlz touring list, but they have been left off the roster on this occasion.

Still, Gilbert maintains that the selections to face Spain, Czech Republic and hosts Australia at the Cup of Nations are for continued assessment purposes, as they already know what they have in veteran players and need to see what the younger prospects can do. The aim, he says, is to find the right balance and combination for the World Cup.

"I think we managed to come up with a balanced enough squad for this tournament, one that has some depth in the mixture of youth and experience, and so we are pretty pleased with that as we continue our assessment, particularly of the younger players. Obviously there will be some hard decisions to make with the final [World Cup] selection, which is always a problem but [still] a nice problem to have," Gilbert told the Jamaica Observer.

"We've decided the best way we can prepare our young players for future tournaments, to include the World Cup, is to give them significant minutes and let them experience everything about a game — and this is a good opportunity for them to do that," he added.

The 44th-ranked Reggae Girlz will open the Cup of Nations against number seven-ranked Spain on February 16 before facing 28th-ranked Czech Republic on February 19, and will close off against 12th-ranked hosts Australia on February 22.

Gilbert reiterated that the coaching staff's aim since taking the reins has always been on improving the Girlz' defensive fortitude which is why he believes Williams, who is a commanding presence at the back, makes a good addition to the unit while the young and exciting Washington might give the more experienced strikers something to think about.

"We have a good, experienced centre back in Victoria Williams and also Solai Washington is a very exciting player who did well in our last camp in Florida," Gilbert shared.

"Both players bring something different to the team, hence their inclusion for this tournament because we want to get a better look at them in a competitive setting. Also, Kameron Simmonds who went with us to South Korea has transitioned from the Under-20 team and she continues to do well. So, we have high hopes for them and I'm almost certain that this tournament will help to bring out their best," he noted.

Goalkeeper Liya Brooks, Rachel Jones, Peyton McNamarra and Siobhan Wilson are the other players still fairly new to the senior set-up.

"It is a great opportunity for them and, again, the bigger picture is developing these players as we look beyond the World Cup, so that puts us in good stead for the future.

"We know all the games are going to be tough but it's going to be a good test for us ahead of the World Cup, some good opponents with different styles of play, and that's good for us. I think our toughest game in this tournament is Spain. They are going to be one of the favourites for the World Cup so again, it's a good test and the timing is right so we just want to make the most of the opportunity and hope that the ladies will put their best foot forward and give a good account of themselves," Gilbert ended.

Squad — Chantelle Swaby (FC Fleury), Victoria Williams (Brighton and Hove Albion), Vyan Sampson (Hearts), Havana Solaun (Houston Dash), Liya Brooks (Hawaii Surf), Rachel Jones (University of North Carolina), Atlanta Primus (London City Lionesses), Khadija Shaw (Manchester City), Chenya Matthews (Louisville FC), Rebecca Spencer (Tottenham Hotspur), Deneisha Blackwood (GPSO 92 ISSY), Peyton McNamarra (Ohio State University), Allyson Swaby (Angel City FC), Tierney Wiltshire (Unattached), Drew Spence (Tottenham Hotspur), Satara Murray (Louisville FC), Siobhan Wilson (Birmingham City), Trudi Carter (Levante Las Planas), Solai Washington (Concorde Fire SC), Kalyssa Van Zanten (Notre Dame University), Jody Brown (Florida State University), Kameron Simmonds (University of Tennessee), Paige Bailey Gayle (Crystal Palace), Sydney Schneider (Sparta Prague)

Jamaica's Havana Solaun (centre) is closed down by Paraguay's defenders (from left) Maria Martinez, Rosa Mino, Lice Chamorro (partly hidden) and Tania Riso during their second friendly interntaional at the National Stadium on Sunday, November 11, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
GILBERT...I think we managed to come up with a balanced enough squad for this tournament
Sherdon Cowan

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