Amidst his disappointment at players’ lack of fitness, interim Reggae Girlz Head Coach Lorne Donaldson believes most things are on point as they continue to put measures in place to bid for a second-consecutive Fifa Women’s World Cup qualification at the Concacaf Women’s Championship.
Though they are a mere five days into a two-week pre-tournament camp in Denver, Colorado, Donaldson expressed satisfaction with the players’ efforts so far, pointing out that the platform has been set to up the ante over the next few days, especially with that July 4-18 tournament in Mexico now two weeks away.
Striker Trudi Carter and midfielder Chinyelu Asher, who are both still in club competition in Lithuania and Sweden, respectively, are the only players yet to join the group for the camp made possible by the Bob and Rita Marley Foundation, under Cedella Marley’s ‘Football is Freedom’ initiative.
“I think the ladies are good, they are working hard and having fun with it. Most of the players are in now we are just waiting for two more players to come in and then we can really push ahead. But it’s been competitive so far; the players’ response has been first-class and I’m really pleased with their progress,” Donaldson told the Jamaica Observer ahead of another session on Monday.
“Fitness is not the greatest; it’s good but it’s not where it should be and that’s the only disappointment I have, that some of our players are not as fit as they should be coming in and we are hoping the time we have left is enough to get them there.
“So our focus right now is certainly on getting them much fitter, as well as to sharpen up on our organisation and transition game because those have to be good. So from top to bottom needs to tighten up,” he added.
Donaldson, who was recently appointed the replacement for Vinimore “Vin” Blaine, who was forced to resign after falling out of favour with the majority of the players, has so far tested the players’ mettle with a game against his Real Colorado Under-20 women’s team. The game ended in a 2-2 stalemate.
However, what stood out for the tactician and his assistants — Alyssa Whitehead, AK Lahkani, Laurie Thomas and Xavier Gilbert — was the fact that the players dug deep throughout the game, mere hours after arriving in Denver’s high altitude.
“We threw them in the fire right away because that game was shortly after they got off the flight and they didn’t realise how good these young American players are. So it was a good game for them to hit the ground running and adjust to the altitude which is a lot worse here than what they are expected to face in Mexico,” Donaldson explained.
“So, to me, that was good because the Girlz were determined to get it done. Yesterday (Sunday) we looked much stronger. They were nice and relaxed and it was more fun but it was still competitive. So, like I said earlier, the only thing lacking is a little bit of fitness,” he noted.
Donaldson, who along with Hue Menzies and fellow assistant Andrew Price led the Girlz to a historic Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance in France in 2019, welcomed the return of midfielder Havana Solaun, Jamaica’s goalscorer at that 2019 showpiece, and left-back Deneisha Blackwood, from injuries.
However, he said fitness trainers Will Hitzelberger and Jason “Buju” Henry, along with masseuse Devin Lawson, are working assiduously to have Solaun at her optimum.
“Den Den [Blackwood] was a surprise for me. She looks really good and sharp and I am happy with where she is now. Havana is still working through some stuff, but the staff is working with her. She is knocking some ball around now, but she is not playing yet, so we will see how she responds over the coming days,” Donaldson said.
He also spoke highly of Liverpool midfielder Jade Bailey, who is still awaiting her passport, Atlanta Primus of London City Lionesses, Paige Bailey-Gayle of Leicester City women, goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer of Tottenham, and former Chelsea stalwart Drew Spence, who is now headed for Tottenham.
Racing Louisville’s defender Satara Murray and Kalyssa Van Zanten of University of Notre Dame, are the other players, who are new to Donaldson’s leadership.
“They are fine players, very professional, so much so that it seems like we’ve known each other for a while, based on how we are gelling as a unit off the field, and we are hoping to keep that going on the field of play as we seek to increase the tempo and push a little bit over the next few days. So, these players certainly add value to the team and I think once all falls in place, we will be really good,” the former national representative stated.
That said, Donaldson faces no easy task at the end of the camp next Tuesday, as he will have to cut the current squad of 26 players down to the 23 that will carry the country’s hopes of another Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance in Australia and New Zealand next year.
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.
“We have an inter-squad game tomorrow (today) and that will be good for them in the battle for positions and we also have a game on Friday, and then we go from there.
“It’s no secret that we have some depth in the squad and not only that but this is a very confident group with a hunger and desire to succeed, and I think they are going to bring it.
“But again, fitness will be a crucial factor and we are going to see if we can play as a unit, where getting the pieces together in all facets of the game is concerned, so we are looking forward to it,” Donaldson said.
Upon selecting the final squad, Donaldson and his team will journey to Mexico for a second camp from June 28 to July 2.
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 to the World Cup, while the third-placed 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-offs.
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.