Time is right for Reggae Girlz - Wilson
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
UNITED STATES: Alicia Wilson is running late. But there's no panic. Despite rolling into camp yesterday afternoon - over a week after the rest of Jamaica women's football team arrived here to train for 2015 CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers - the Reggae Girlz' captain is calm, confident she'll be ready.
"I've mentally prepared myself to play," said Wilson.
Physically, she's admittedly "about 70 per cent", after being forced to train by herself while working as an assistant American college coach. Yet, Wilson wasn't about to miss a golden chance to play at football's biggest show next year in Canada.
"This is it for Jamaica," she said. "This opportunity is the best shot we're going to have, and I think we have a solid team. The chance may never come again."
For Wilson, turning 35 in December, guarantees that. After representing Jamaica at multiple levels since 1999, and playing professionally in countries like Iceland and Costa Rica, she almost quit football to concentrate on family. But Wilson was present when Jamaica lost the CONCACAF semi-final and a third-place play-off in 2006. Disappointment never quite left.
"That was the closest we came to a World Cup," Wilson said.
She was married with two young daughters - Kiana and Sydney - when she encountered former national coach Vin Blaine in the Cayman Islands in January. Blaine urged Wilson, who's equally accomplished in any position on the pitch, to re-consider international football.
"He said, 'you better start training again because we have a good chance to go to the World Cup," Wilson recalled.
Though tempted, she hesitated.
"At first, I was questioning myself," Wilson said.
Her boss encouraged her to accept the challenge. Husband Oscar Lopez, mother Marva and brother Keith, a goalkeeper on Jamaica's 1999 Under-17 World Cup final squad, offered their usual support. Wilson began training. Rust-borne aches and pains followed. Her mood, however, changed.
"Once I saw I could handle it, I just kept playing," said Wilson. "I love the game."
She rejoined the national programme for Jamaica's Caribbean Football Union qualifiers in June, her first appearance since 2006. Wilson's convinced Jamaica is closing in on a first women's World Cup berth. No need to hesitate.
"Why hold back?" she asked. "Just gonna give it all I got."
The Girlz play Martinique (October 16), Costa Rica (October 18) and Mexico (October 19) at United States venues in Kansas, Illinois, and Washington, DC, respectively. Martinique is ineligible for World Cup, so Jamaica's path to top two in Group B, guaranteeing a spot in the four-team semis, is easier. The first three qualify for Canada. Fourth plays a South American country for another World Cup place.
The Girlz have their biggest backing ever, especially since Cedella Marley put her considerable influence behind the programme. They lack match practice, but gained other benefits.
"We didn't have these things before," Wilson said of the US camp.
Jamaica also has time to scout opponents. Wilson is eager to pitch in, especially against Costa Rica.
"I have to be getting all kinds of information about them," said Wilson, who played regularly against Costa Ricans at national and club levels.
She refuses to concede anything.
"We're not saying we're finishing second," Wilson said. "We're thinking of topping the group ... . We can take down everybody."
Speed, skill and agility give the Girlz an edge, said the captain. Camp ensures fitness. Organisation will, however, be key Jamaica's fate. Wilson believes that's covered, too.
"They're very appreciative," she said of her teammates. "They listen."
Wilson hears her own football clock ticking. Her time is now. Better late than never.