Danielle Slaton for Goal Five
Women’s World Cup qualifying for our Concacaf region begins this week, which also means that our U.S. Women’s National Team officially begins the defense of its 2015 World Cup title. I sit with a mixture of nerves and excitement, confident that our women will qualify, but slightly anxious because I know it is not a given.
In addition to the butterflies I feel as a fan, I am especially energized around this event because I get to cover it as a television analyst for Fox Sports. My work begins on Friday when Canada takes on Jamaica.
Getting to cover international women’s soccer tournaments is, perhaps, the best part of my job. You see, I love to tell stories. And when I get to tell the stories of women from developing nations like Jamaica, Cuba, and Costa Rica (which I will get to do in this tournament), I am especially honored. Oftentimes, their stories are tales of incredible strength. Let me give you a sneak peak of two players from Jamaica.
Konya Plummer, whose nickname is “Country,” comes from the rural part of Jamaica. She grew up with limited resources, having to carry bathing and drinking water up the hill to her home. She played soccer with boys in her area and even cut her hair short to look like a boy so she could blend in better. Today, she is not only captain of the Jamaican women’s national team, but she’s a starting central defender at the University of Central Florida, playing for former U.S. Women’s National Team player, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak. Sahaydak says, “You’ll never see a more grateful, appreciative, and respectful player than Konya. She has a lot to manage, but puts herself into everything she does, and does it all with a smile.” I can’t wait to watch this woman play and tell the world this story.
When many of us think of Jamaica, we think of their resorts and beaches, but this is not the Jamaica into which Khadija Shaw was born. Spanish Town, Jamaica, Khadija’s hometown, is a city plagued with gang violence. At only 21 years old, she’s lost four brothers to violence, three to gunshots and one to a car accident. She says, “I had a tough life growing up. I was in an environment that was very violent. I had to cut all that out and focus on my soccer career. It was difficult at times. Coming from practice, I would be walking into crime scenes.” Khadija has used soccer as a way out of her difficult circumstances. She was the leading goal scorer for Jamaica during the preliminary rounds of qualifying, she’s a forward at #9-ranked University of Tennessee, and I am eager to see if she can continue her goal scoring prowess in this tournament. But more than that, I am humbled that I get to describe her determination and resilience.
So, I expect all of you U.S.A. fans to don your red, white, and blue, and cheer loudly for the home team. I’ll be right there with you. But I also hope you’ll take a moment to recognize some new faces on the field, and honor the incredible women who are fighting to grow the game around the world, oftentimes amidst hardship and struggle that is tough to comprehend. Konya and Khadija are two of the countless women who are bettering themselves, their communities, their country, and the world through the beautiful game of soccer, and I am grateful to share their stories.
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