DESPITE being slow out of the blocks where preparations are concerned, interim Reggae Girlz Head Coach Lorne Donaldson is approaching the situation with optimism and confidence as the Concacaf Women’s Championship draws closer.
Donaldson, who was recently appointed as the replacement for Vinimore “Vin” Blaine who was forced to resign after falling out of favour with majority of the Reggae Girlz, is currently putting things in place to welcome the team to his base in Colorado for the first of two pre-tournament camps.
The two-week camp, scheduled for June 14-28, will instead begin on June 16 as Donaldson’s assistants — Alyssa Whitehead, AK Lahkani, Laurie Thomas and Xavier Gilbert — are expected to arrive on Tuesday with the 26 players while the rest of the support staff will arrive on Wednesday.
Midfielder Havana Solaun, Jamaica’s goalscorer at the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup in France, and left back Deneisha Blackwood, both returning from injuries, have been listed for the camp while Marlo Sweatman is a noticeable absentee.
For Donaldson this camp, made possible by the Bob and Rita Marley Foundation under Cedella Marley’s ‘Football is Freedom’ initiative, will be aimed at getting the players reacquainted with the coaching staff so as to, by extension, plot the way forward to the July 4-18 Women’s Championship in Mexico.
“From the moment the Girlz come in we have to try to create an environment that is fun, competitive, and knowledgeable. And, as always, we like to do our little team bonding exercises to get us all on the same page. So, it is very important that when the Girlz come in we are ready to go and can hit the ground running,” Donaldson told the Jamaica Observer.
“Obviously we want the players to come in with a really great attitude and a positive approach, leave whatever happened before behind, and just focus on building going forward. We want to ensure there is good camaraderie and team spirit among the players to push the work rate and vibe in the camp — so we are looking forward to that,” he shared.
Donaldson, who along with Hue Menzies and fellow assistant Andrew Price led the Girlz to their historic Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance, knows all too well about the importance of having the right unit behind the team and, as such, has ensured that his staff is lined with familiar faces.
With the exception of Thomas who is said to be bolstering the coaching staff, Whitehead, Lahkani and Gilbert have all been with the senior Reggae Girlz team at one point or another.
Will Hitzelberger is also expected to make a return to work, alongside physical trainer Jason Henry, in whipping the Girlz in shape, while video analyst Sanford Corbin also makes a return after being cut since the first-round qualifying game in Grenada.
“As you can see, it is a familiar staff. AK was with the Girlz when [Hubert] Busby was there, so too was Alyssa, and you know Xavier needs no introduction. So, it’s a familiar staff. We wanted to keep it that way as a means of continuity, which is very important especially at this point in time, and Laurie is a great addition. She has done a lot of scouting and more in US soccer so she is very knowledgeable,” Donaldson explained.
That aside, Donaldson and company are hoping to tick some important preparation boxes during the camp, with much focus on the tactical, technical, physical and mental aspects they hope to perfect in high altitude in Denver as they hunt a second-consecutive qualification to the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.
“This is the first one and it is no secret that we are playing catch up, so we have to see how best we can make it work and try to figure things out as we go along. We won’t be going up against any competitive opponents — just a few games against a boys’ team just to look at our set-up.
“These games will just give us an idea of where we are with our game and overall, it is just good to get some physical and technical work in and then we will up the ante ahead of the tournament,” Donaldson explained.
The second camp scheduled for June 28 to July 2 in Mexico, he said, will assist in reinforcing those tactics as well as to ensure the Girlz are acclimatised to the conditions ahead of the crucial qualifiers.
Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz are drawn in Group A alongside World champions United States, hosts Mexico, and Caribbean neighbours Haiti for the tournament in Monterrey.
“I think the Girlz are happy with what we have demonstrated so far. We had a meeting via Zoom where we discussed some stuff and we had a layout of the expectations, and everybody just seemed ready to take up the challenge,” said Donaldson.
Another critical component for Donaldson and his assistants is finding the right combination of players, from their provisional list of 42 players submitted, to make up the final squad.
Defender Maliah Atkins of the University of South Dakota and goalkeeper Serena Mensah of Fordham University, who were both a part of the Under-20 set-up, are the only new additions to the senior Reggae Girlz pool.
However, only Atkins will be included in this camp.
Liverpool midfielder Jade Bailey and Atlanta Primus of London City Lionesses also make a return since the friendly contest against Costa Rica in Fort Lauderdale, along with Racing Louisville defender Satara Murray. However, Bailey is still awaiting her passport.
“So it is very important that we get these camps in and also very important that the players come in good physical conditions, because a lot of the players in Mexico and the United States are still playing in their leagues. Our players are not playing right now, except for a few.
“We challenged them to do some work on their own, come in good shape and ready to go, and use these camps as their practice games because this is the only thing we have. So, these camps will just have to help us get ready and in game mode,” the tactician added.
The Girlz will meet hosts Mexico on July 4, the United States on July 7, and Haiti on July 11 in the preliminary round.
Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago will contest Group B.
The top two teams from each group will qualify directly for the World Cup while the third-place teams will qualify for the inter-continental play-offs.
In addition, the group winners will qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games and the 2024 Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup, while the second and third-place teams will advance to the Concacaf Olympic play-off.
Squad: Sydney Schneider, Chantelle Swaby, Jade Bailey, Vyan Sampson, Havana Solaun, Chinyelu Asher, Kayla McCoy, Atlanta Primus, Khadija Shaw, Sashana Campbell, Rebecca Spencer, Deneisha Blackwood, Allyson Swaby, Tiernny Wiltshire, Drew Spence, Satara Murray, Yazmeen Jamieson, Trudi Carter, Jayda Hylton-Pelaia, Kalyssa Van Zanten, Jody Brown, Mireya Grey, Paige Bailey-Gayle, Olufolasade Adamolekun, Maliah Atkins, Tiffany Cameron.