Sun | Mar 18, 2018

Girlz ready

Published:Wednesday | October 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

UNITED STATES: A late injury cost them one teammate. Impending motherhood had earlier accounted for more. Now unfriendly weather raises another obstacle for Jamaica just ahead of the CONCACAF Women's Championships, the final qualifying round for places at World Cup 2015.

Yet the Reggae Girlz appear unperturbed in their bid to become the first senior female football team to qualify for the sport's biggest show in Canada.

Lengthy spells away from family, lost school time, wages and job opportunities have all been deemed necessary sacrifices. Their minds appear fixed on the prize.

"They are in very, very good spirits," said head coach Merron Gordon on Monday, sidestepping the damper of the Girlz' final practice game being called off earlier due to a waterlogged field in Kansas, the state hosting Jamaica's opening fixture against Martinique tomorrow.

"The motivation is there. They have given up so much."

Jamaica arrived in Kansas just over a week ago to confront cold and rain. Conditions could get even worse for two other Group B games - against Costa Rica on October 18 in Illinois and October 21 versus Mexico in Washington DC.

But a finish among the first two in the group means advance to the semi-final round of four. The top three places there are guaranteed World Cup berths. Fourth offers another chance in a play-off against Ecuador. Incentive, according to captain Alicia Wilson, "to take down anyone", isn't lacking. Neither is confidence.

"Most of them know what it takes to beat these teams," Gordon said of his squad, some, like Wilson, part of Jamaica's failed semi-final run in 2006, the closest the Girlz have come to a World Cup place.

Jamaica have fewer excuses not to succeed this time. Although pregnancy forced at least a couple quality players out of consideration, and defender Mitsy Facey returned home last weekend after aggravating an injured knee, the Girlz know they're the most prepped female national team ever.

Training camp

They come off an unprecedented overseas training camp, stretching over a month from Florida to Kansas, following a second place finish to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) championships in August.

"The camp was really a first for women's football," said Ewan Scott, Jamaica's head of delegation.

Big backing has come from Cedella Marley, combining with the Jamaica Football Federation.

Gordon's staff now includes experienced national coach, Wendell Downswell, and a full-time trainer who joined in Florida.

Far more detailed scouting reports on opponents than ever before are now available. Much of the team is experienced. Several have played at North American colleges. A few in Iceland and Sweden. Everything has fallen into place.

"I think the objectives we have set, we have met them," declared Gordon. "Tactically, we are better than the CFU. I think the girls are sharper, in terms of physical readiness."

Jamaica have converted negatives into positives. Myjanairii Perkins replaced Facey. Key midfielder Omalyn Davis, who played professionally here, has returned from knee surgery after missing the CFU tournament.

"She's about 85 to 90 per cent now in terms of fitness, but she will play," said Gordon. "She's a quality player."

Top level practice games have been lacking, despite three wins in as many matches. But Jamaica have spun gloomy days into rays of optimism.

"The Girlz know exactly what to expect from the weather," Gordon argued ahead of a tournament, hinting persistent low temperatures. "We train in rain and cold."

"Physically, nobody will love cold," he said. "But mentally, if you adjust, you will be fine. It will bother us, but we will definitely overcome."