As Skip Marley crooned on the pitch while Canada and the USWNT warmed up for their final, Jamaica was in the stands celebrating. Not even 30 minutes before Marley had started singing, his nation had beaten Costa Rica by 1-0 to put themselves firmly in contention for their first ever Olympics.
Jamaica had already qualified for their second World Cup after finishing as runners up in Group A and it wasn’t a fluke. While they were far less impressive against the USWNT, they showed plenty of attacking verve and defensive solidity against Mexico, Haiti and last night, Costa Rica.
Starting with Becky Spencer who was immaculate in goal, Jamaica have taken huge strides in their development since their first World Cup in 2019. Spencer has been operating at another level for the Reggae Girlz and those in front of her have taken note and replicated that in their own games. Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw needs no exalting as anyone familiar with Jamaica, Bordeaux or Manchester City will know that the 25-year old is a constant threat for any backline she faces. Instead, we should look to the likes of Drew Spence who was the epitome of a midfield general, the Swaby sisters (Allyson and Chantelle) who were close to unbeatable at the back, and Jody Brown and Trudi Carter who provided the perfect foil for Shaw up top.
At the heart of this evolution is Lorne Donaldson. Donaldson was the assistant coach when Jamaica were on the big stage in France in 2019 but took over the team in June 2022 after the players and previous head coach, Vin Blaine, seemed to have reached an unbreachable impasse. Blaine had led the team to the World Cup and the CONCACAF W Championship but Donaldson was with him throughout so when he took the reigns, it wasn’t a huge adjustment for him or the players despite the qualifying tournament being a month away.
Lorne Donaldson is well known in the Colorado area and especially by the likes of the US’ Sophia Smith and Mal Pugh. It’s no wonder that when he took over Jamaica, they expected big things for the team and it looks like it’s paying off. While many had touted Jamaica as a ‘dark horse’ in the CONCACAF W Championship, it wasn’t until they stunned Mexico in the first game of Group A did people really start to realise how good the Reggae Girlz were playing under Donaldson.
Donaldson is a forthright man and isn’t afraid to admit when his team isn’t playing well as he did in the post-match conference after facing the USWNT. However, he also seems to know exactly how to encourage his team to perform to the best of their abilities. As shown by his changes last night against Costa Rica, Donaldson also knows exactly when to make tactical changes to help his team push themselves to another level. His substitutions in extra time ended up being the difference as fresh legs profited from going after a tired Costa Rican backline.
Circling back to the players now, their head coach has them playing in a style and formation that suits not only where they are in their development but also where they are as a team. Drew Spence in particular has been a fantastic watch in midfield and deserves to be mentioned as one of the best players we saw at the tournament, Becky Spencer in goal was just as good as the winner of the Best Goalkeeper award (Kailen Sheridan) as well and finally in Jody Brown, Bunny Shaw has a capable strike partner up front. Shaw now knows that she doesn’t have to do everything on her own and at 20 years of age, Brown is going to be a force for Jamaica for many years.
Jamaica now have a two-legged playoff against Canada next year to reach Paris 2024. It’s a tall ask for them as apart from the USWNT, Canada is the strongest team in the region. However, what we saw from Jamaica over the last few months leading into this tournament and now, they have a chance to make history once again. At the rate their developing, they could prove to be a very stern test for the Canadians next year. Until then, I’m going to enjoy watching them at the World Cup. They’ll absolutely be worth the watch.