Mending defence
Swaby's PSG move welcomed as Donaldson sweats over Girlz' defensive state ahead of W'Cup
USA's Mallory Pugh (left) and Jamaica's Allyson Swaby vie for the ball during their 2022 Concacaf Women's Championship match at the BBVA Bancomer stadium in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon State, Mexico on July 7, 2022. (Photo: Observer file)

UPON his return to the helm of the senior Reggae Girlz programme last year, Head Coach Lorne Donaldson stressed the need to enhance the team's defensive fortitude ahead of their second-consecutive FIFA Women's World Cup appearance in Australia and New Zealand this summer.

Donaldson was aware of the physical and mental toughness required to compete with top teams that will test his players' resolve, especially after the experience of their debut showing in France 2019. As such, he was adamant about addressing the defensive deficiencies within their structure with some degree of urgency.

While he has made some inroads over the past six months in terms of adding players to the pool to provide some semblance of depth, Donaldson readily admits that they are by no means out of the proverbial woods. This, as he and assistants Xavier Gilbert and Ak Lakhani are yet to craft a cohesive defensive combination that will remain resolute under pressure.

"I wouldn't say we are entirely comfortable but we have to work with what we have. If there are other players out there who are better than what we have currently then we will look at them, but what you see is what we have right now," Donaldson told the Jamaica Observer.

"So we have to go in with the mindset to be able to transition from a back four to a back five, if we have to, which is why we are looking at some of these defensive positions so we don't become stagnant to playing one formation. We want to be flexible in the way we approach our games," he added.

Simply put, to match strides with and, by extension, upset more illustrious rivals Donaldson agreed that resilience is non-negotiable — and next month's Cup of Nations tournament in Australia will serve as the perfect rehearsal for his 44th-ranked Girlz.

They are scheduled to square off 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.

"When we talk about defending we are not just talking about our backline; we are talking about all 11 players being able to defend when required to do so because there will be times when we will need everybody to defend as well as attack, so we have to be very resilient if we are to get results.

"We have to perform defensively to perform well in the tournament — we don't intend to just show up. Those are some strong teams so it's going to be very tough but we welcome the tournament and the challenge to look at some of these players and see what we have," Donaldson said.

"Hopefully we can show some cohesiveness. It's going to be a back line with Victoria [Williams] in there and obviously, she has never played with these Girlz before so, depending on what formation we play, hopefully we can break it down so everyone can have a clear understanding right away of what we are trying to do and that would get us ready for the next window when we can try and perfect some things," he noted.

It is for this reason he welcomed Allyson Swaby's move to French giants Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on a six-month loan from National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) outfit Angel City FC until June. The move, Donaldson says, will not only assist the centre back to improve her craft, but additionally gain further knowledge and experience which will also prove beneficial to the Reggae Girlz set-up.

"It's a big thing for us that we have somebody playing at that level in one of the best clubs in the world — especially a centre back — and as things stand now it seems she is going to get a lot of playing time, so we welcome that because we are going to need her experience and knowledge in the Reggae Girlz set-up," he declared.

As it stands, Tiernny Wiltshire, Chantelle Swaby, Allyson Swaby, Satara Murray, Deneisha Blackwood and now Brighton & Hove Albion's 32-year-old central defender Victoria Williams, are who Donaldson has to work with for a possible back four of five.

The versatile Sashana "Pete" Campbell, who is not in the 24 for next month's invitational tournament, also provides another option as she can fit in anywhere defensively.

Additionally, the tactician and his assistants are eagerly trying to whip former Captain Konya Plummer, who recently gave birth, back into shape to possibly provide another central defensive option.

"She [Williams] is a very good player. She is very comfortable playing out of the back and so, with her addition, it gives us a little depth in that position — which is why we brought her in because we were lacking depth there," Donaldson said.

"Again, Konya was one of our stronger defenders and obviously we want to see her ready so we are still trying to figure out how we can get her into a club so she can get ready because she hasn't played a game in a long time.

"She won't make the trip next month because I didn't think she was ready and I didn't want to throw her in there, but hopefully we can get her mentally and physically ready for the next window so we can have a good look at all our strongest defenders before final selection," he explained.

Meanwhile, holding midfielder Jade Bailey, who had a knee surgery recently, will be a big miss for Donaldson as she may not be ready in time for the July 20 to August 20 World Cup in which the Girlz are drawn in Group F alongside France and Brazil, with their third opponent to come from the Intercontinental play-offs.

Still, he has the likes of Marlo Sweatman, Kayla McCoy and now young Peyton McNamara to employ, along with Havana Solaun who has at times been used as a makeshift number six.

"Yeah, Jade was the best we had there and for sure we will miss her but, again, we just have to try to make amends where possible which is why we brought in another young player in Peyton McNamara. She is a good young player but obviously lacking some experience, but that's the position we are in now and so we will have a look at her and see how best she can fit in," Donaldson ended.

Sherdon Cowan

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