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The Week in Women's Football: Exclusive interview with Jamaica head coach Hue Menzies

This week talks exclusively to Hue Menzies, the Jamaican women's national team coach, on his team's shock qualification for this summer's Women's World Cup, their two recent friendly wins over Chile and his vision for the tournament in France and beyond.

Hue Menzies—Jamaica Women's National Team Head Coach talked exclusively this week with Hue Menzies, the head coach of the Jamaican women's national team, which qualified for France last fall against all expectations, defeating 2015 WWC Finals participant Costa Rica 1-0 in a crucial Gold Cup group game last fall and then defeating Panama on penalty kicks in the third place match after a 2-2 draw following 120 minutes, in one of the most exciting and tense matches that I have ever seen. As reported last week, (, Jamaica defeated Chile earlier this month in two friendlies in Kingston and Montego Bay—both teams are debutants to the Women's World Cup stage this summer along with South Africa.

Menzies, who was actually born in London but moved to Jamaica with his family when he was four, said that the two matches against CONMEBOL's second seeded qualifier for France in Chile were the first women's national team matches to be held in his country since 2006. Menzies sees his role and position as going beyond just coaching a soccer team: "I took the project, it wasn't really a soccer deal but to try to see if we can change the mindset of how our people perceive females playing football. In my culture, females mainly do track and field and netball and they thought soccer [in general] is a poor man's sport and they didn't see that females could play football. That was the main reason that I took the job. Sometimes when you do something for a different purpose, good things happen."

Menzies took charge in 2015 after Jamaica failed to qualify for the 2015 WWC in Canada and first led the side in November of 2015 when Jamaica lost in Trinidad in the 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers to the host nation 2-1 and then to minnows Guyana by the same score in the meaningless third place game, as only the CFU winner (T&T) advanced to the regional semifinals. Menzies doesn't have pleasant memories of that tournament but it was a turning point for him: "It was the worst loss of my career. I realized that this is not a good environment—the federation, how they managed it and some of the players didn't care about the results, but focused on just getting a US$ per Diem and visitor's visa to travel." Shortly afterwards, the local women's Premier League was disbanded, as was the national team for two years; Coach Menzies recalled: "It was an opportunity to jump in and change things."

Part of Menzies' vision was to bring the core of his team to the U.S., where he was based, and he could draw on more resources to support the team than he could at home in Jamaica. Menzies explained: "I took advantage of the league being folded and built the program….I pulled kids out of there and put them in Europe or universities here, or in the case of Jody Brown (see below), put her in high school here, in boarding school. If there was a league, I probably wouldn't have. The resources here were an advantage to our program."

He had no games with his squad since November 2015 until a rush order in 2018 from the Federation to prepare a squad for the Women's World Cup qualifiers. Menzies explained: "I didn't hear anything for two years and then they called last February [2018] and said: 'You have to go to Haiti in May and try qualifying for the World Cup. That's when I brought everyone back in." Jamaica showed their ability to upset the favorites in the first qualification round in Haiti, tying the favored home side 2-2 and advancing with a superior goal differential in their games against Guadeloupe and Martinique. They then went to Trinidad and Tobago and won all four games to top the CFU qualifiers, including upsets over host side T&T 4-1 and Cuba 6-1, both of whom also qualified for the Gold Cup Finals.

Part of Coach Menzies' strategy was to educate his players so that they do not just rely on their natural athletic ability: "The biggest thing we did was educating these kids, putting them in an environment where they get a proper education and become more educated; their minds are thinking more in the lines of getting better as a person, [which] allows them to be more accessible to teaching….They realize they need to learn. They are real receptive to coaching."

Regarding the 16-year-old phenom forward Jody Brown, who was such a revelation at the Gold Cup Finals tournament and led her side with 3 goals, her coach said: "We don't take credit for her. [Players like her] don't come around often and it's amazing the brain for the game that she has." Brown is definitely one to watch this summer and should have college coaches and professional scouts looking to recruit her after the Women's World Cup.

Menzies himself is based in Orlando, Florida and came to the U.S. for college and went to graduate school, then worked on Wall Street but wanted to work with kids and taught math and coached in high schools and college.

Menzies has worked hard to change a lot of elements within the culture of the national team program, including at the federation level. One issue with many national team programs is that they prepare teams only for major tournaments. Coach Menzies explained: "You can't develop players in camp. I had to really educate the federation of this. They assume we can do an average league in Jamaica and come down and do camps, and it will be okay. That's not how you develop players for your national team. The outside resources, as far as club and colleges, are very important in their development. Some of the players were out of school, working or in the WPSL [Women's Premier Soccer League, the North American summer amateur league], but we had to get them attached to clubs in Europe [last fall]." He realized that having so many players who were "unattached with a club" or just playing for a few months in the summer was hurting the team in many ways, including in their FIFA rankings and in the media, as people assumed that the team would not get any better since many in the squad were not playing regularly. He said that the priority was to find his players' clubs where they could play regularly: "That triggered things with me and I [had to] start sending these kids out to different parts of the world—they are playing games, training every day, competing; it's a different culture, they have to fend for themselves and be more independent and receptive to learning." He felt that another advantage of so many of his squad playing abroad is that they become steeped in a soccer culture, which is not the case in Jamaica where cricket is the most popular sport. He explained: "A big thing is that players in Europe are in a football culture; they come home and turn on TV and watch [men's] soccer—it creates the whole mindset. Europe is the best place to develop players."

The Jamaican League started last year again but for only 3 months and was split into 2 seasons, utilizing a grant from FIFA. Reports put the cost of running the current 3 month league at 12 Million Jamaican dollars (about U.S. $100,000). He said that the country needs a 6 month league in order to have a viable women's program and assist high school players with their development. Menzies explained: "It would do a world of good for the kids." He is holding his breath about the FIFA mandate that every club in premier leagues have to have a women's side, as the Jamaican men's league teams are having trouble surviving on their own. He reiterates that: "I had to get kids out of there to be successful."

Regarding his most recent squad for their recent two matches against Chile, 11 of the 27 members are with clubs in Europe, with a trio currently playing in Norway: Lauren Silver with Trondheims-Orn (Silver played at the University of Florida and, after not making the Houston Dash squad in 2015, had brief stints in Sweden, France (with Metz), and Scotland (with Glasgow City)); Chinyelu Asher (Stabaek), who played at Purdue and the University of Louisville and then with BIIK-Kazygurt in Kazakhstan in 2016 (when we interviewed her for and then played with Santa Fe in Colombia before a stint in the WPSL with the Washington Spirit Reserves; and Havana Solaun at Klepp, who played for the U.S. from the U-17 through the U-23 level, at the University of Florida and then spent two injury plagued years with the Seattle Reign before being traded to the Washington Spirit, where she played 37 games with 5 goals and 5 assists in two seasons; she attended a Canadian national team tryout in 2015 and then joined Jamaica after they qualified for the 2019 WWC, winning her first cap on March 4 against Chile.

Two of the Reggae Girlz are based with clubs in Israel: Sashana Campbell (Maccabi Krish Ronot Hadera) and Shakira Duncan (FC Ramat Hasharon and ex-University of West Florida). Nicole McClure plays in Northern Ireland with Sion Swifts; the 29-year-old well-traveled goalkeeper from New York has played at the University of Hawaii and the University of South Florida and then joined clubs in Croatia, France, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Marlo Sweatman joined Hungary's Szent Mihaly this year after time with PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands and a short spell in Sweden (she played collegiately at Florida State and the University of Oregon). Dominique Bond-Flasza (the New York-born former University of Washington Huskie who scored the final penalty in the World Cup berth clinching win over Panama) currently plays in the Netherlands with powerhouse PSV Eindhoven after winning a WPSL title with Seattle Sounders last year. Two Jamaicans are currently playing in Italy: Trudi Carter (ex-University of South Florida) with AS Roma and Tori Carter with AS Bari.

Tiffany Cameron is a Jamaican/Canada who signed recently with Vittsjo in Sweden; after playing at Ohio State University she played for Seattle and FC Kansas City during the first year of the NWSL and then played abroad in Germany with a number of clubs and in Cyprus. She won six caps for Canada in friendlies and thus was able to play with Jamaica.

Goalkeeper Chris-Ann Chambers was the only home based player, with the University of the West Indies FC.

Of the American-based players, Jody Brown is in high school while 7 currently play in U.S. Colleges:

Deneisha Blackwood—West Florida University

Chanel Hudson-Marks—University of Memphis

Cachet Lue—Texas Christian University

Konya Plummer—University of Central Florida

Sydney Schneider—UNC-Wilmington

Khadija Shaw—University of Tennessee

Chantelle Swaby—Rutgers University

A few of Menzies' players will graduate from university in May ahead of the WWC, but the education is important and the team will work around it in planning training.

Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw played with the Florida Krush WPSL team (for Menzies) last summer andwas the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in her senior season last season at the University of Tennessee, scoring 13 goals with 6 assists in 14 games. She was named to CONCACAF's Female Best 11 for 2018 and has received lots of attention in her journey to overcome heartache after losing multiple family members to gang violence at home. A coach with experience in the Caribbean told me that he felt that Shaw will be a breakout star at this summer's World Cup.

Other U.S.-based players include two with NWSL clubs: Cheyna Matthews (who won a College Cup at Florida State University in 2014 and was a U.S. U-23 international and is currently with the Washington Spirit) and Kayla McCoy (the Houston Dash second round selection in the 2019 NWSL draft who played at Duke University).

Other American-based players include Giselle Washington, who is a 17-year-old high schooler in Atlanta and plays with youth club Concorde Fire. Christina Chang played in the WPSL with the FC Surge in Miami last summer and previously at Florida Atlantic University.

Laura Jackson also debuted during the Chile series and is unattached but for a unique reason: she is an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic the U.S and made her debut on March 1 against Chile for the Reggae Girlz.(below). A native of England, she played in the States in college Syracuse and Iona and then coached at Iona and the University of Idaho. She played in England at Watford and Arsenal and was in the Gunner's Academy.

Jamaica won both games of a two-match series at home versus Chile, the first on March 1 was a 1-0 victory in Kingston, with a 9th minute goal from Jamaican-American midfielder Marlo Sweatman (24), Jamaica won the second game on March 4 in Montego Bay by a 3-2 score. Khadija Shaw (University of Tennessee) scored twice for Jamaica along with the winner from 16-year-old sensation Jody Brown.

One by-product of these games from Menzies' perspective is that people in Jamaica are learning about the team and who the players are: "The public is starting to identify with us. Corporate Jamaica is gravitating to us and adopting us—we have college graduates—and football is perceived as a poor man's sport with not many educated players, and they are in love with our team." The down side is that when the team goes to Jamaica for training, they enter a hectic environment as people are seeking out the players for appearances and interviews but Menzies stresses the positive benefits: "The country is now adapting the team; it is neat to see the 180 degree turn."

Jamaica are in a very difficult group with Brazil, Italy and Australia. Menzies is approaching the group like everything else he has with the program—realistically but undaunted: "We have to play to our athleticism—we have to use that because we feel it is superior from 0 to 40 yards and there is not another team that can match us. We have to maintain a discipline defensively but where we will create a lot of havoc is on our counterattacks. When we go forward, it's not just one or two players running away from everybody, it's everybody going, we create options. Other teams get caught up attacking the ball where they get out of shape. When we win the ball, we are gone! Our counterattack creates numbers in the box. Most of our goals against Chile came from counters. We also have technology and films on these teams. We are in a tough bracket [but] we deal with adversity every day. It's another challenge for us. It's not about going to the World Cup and just showing up. It's going and competing. Our program is not about making the World Cup; it is about what we do after the World Cup and sustaining it…. It's just another achievement for us but we have to fix other things like the perception of women playing and what can we do to have younger players idolise us to make sure they realise there is hope for them. There is so much more that we tell them [the national team players] every day in training that we can accomplish."

Menzies said that Grenoble, where they play Brazil in their first WWC group match and Australia in their third, is situated in the Alps and they will play in a small stadium that will be good for their fans who come: "The cozy stadium is a great environment because our fans bring an excitement to the game; [other] people will jump on the bandwagon from different cultures because we do have a little bit of a flair to our culture which people gravitate to." We saw that when the men's Reggae Boyz qualified for their only World Cup in 1998, also in France—winning their last group match against Japan and creating a festive atmosphere in the stands with their fans along with the neutrals who adopted them.

Jamaica is a team that will score this summer and their Women's World Cup opponents should be weary—they are in a monster group but pulling a point or more off of Italy would put a knockout place up from grabs in their last group game against the Matildas. Hue Menzies is a very intelligent coach who also is a visionary in terms of changing his country's culture and his impact will be seen for years. A lot of people will be excited by his players, many of who are unknown outside of their clubs or schools. They should also be impressed by a very thoughtful and prepared coach, who is not just building a team but constructing a change in his country's perception of women in sports.

Note: This reporter is planning on attending the 2019 Women's World Cup and the Jamaica-Australia game is on the itinerary and we will keep readers updated.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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