Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, with help from Bob Marley’s daughter, make World Cup history

The Women’s World Cup just got a lot more fun with the inclusion of Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, the first Caribbean team in history to make the tournament.

The Reggae Girlz are in Miramar this week training for the upcoming World Cup, which is June 7 to July 7 in France. Jamaica’s first-round opponents are Italy, Brazil and Australia.

“I’m just absolutely overwhelmed, sometimes we realistically have to pinch ourselves to be absolutely sure Jamaica is actually in the World Cup,” said Michael Ricketts, president of the Jamaican Football Federation. “This qualification will have a huge impact on Jamaica. It has motivated and inspired, provided a catalyst and impetus for some dysfunctional communities, some young girl or boy can use these Reggae Girlz as an example. But we are still struggling as it relates to corporate entities coming on board.”

The City of Miramar, which has a large Jamaican population, and the locally based Reggae Girlz Foundation are hosting the weeklong send-off, which concludes Thursday night with a double-header and festival at Ansin Sports Complex. The Reggae Girlz play South Florida’s FC Surge at 8 p.m., preceded by a 6:30 p.m. Jamaican vs. Haitian Celebrity Match. Tickets are $10-$50 and proceeds will be used to help fund the team’s World Cup journey.

In 2014, the Jamaican women’s program was falling apart and about to disband. Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella, made it her personal mission to revive the Reggae Girlz. She led a global fundraising effort, and it paid off.

Hue Menzies, the Reggae Girlz’ Oviedo-based coach, announced 22 of the 23 players for the World Cup roster Wednesday afternoon. One unnamed player is pending FIFA approval. The roster has several Florida connections.

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Midfielder Lauren Silver is a Miami native who played at Plantation American Heritage and the University of Florida. Forward Ashleigh Shim played at Florida International University. Midfielder Marlo Sweatman and forward Cheyna Matthews (wife of NFL wide receiver Jordan Matthews) played at Florida State. Defender Konya Plummer played at the University of Central Florida and goalkeeper Nicole McClure and forward Trudi Carter played at the University of South Florida

Among the other locals in training camp was 33-year-old Fort Lauderdale native Christina Chang, who played at Florida Atlantic University and works as an air traffic controller at Miami International Airport.

Menzies and his players say they are ready for the task, and eager to prove they belong amongst the world’s best 24 teams. Their spirit was evident as they danced onto the field for practice Wednesday morning.

Reggae Girlz press conference
(L-R) Jamaican Football Federation president Michael Ricketts, Reggae Girlz players Kayla McCoy, Cheyna Matthews, Chinyelu Asher, and coach Hue Menzies at a press conference Wednesday at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, Fla. Michelle Kaufman Miami Herald

“We are not going in with an intimidated mind-set,” midfielder Kayla McCoy said. “Even though we haven’t been there before and other countries have been there many times, I don’t think it is a daunting task for us. We’re very confident in the personnel and skill and talent we have. As a group we have our own identity, and we know how we want to play. If we stick to that, I think we’ll be very successful.”

Menzies believes his team is one of the most athletic in the World Cup, and he has high hopes.

“We proved that when you put a little bit into something, you can get a lot out of it,” Menzies said. “We didn’t have any resources. People from other countries called me to ask how we did it. We just blocked any adversity that came to us and stepped over it. We had to put financial assets into this project to make it work. Some of these women have put careers on hold. For the region, it’s massive. But this is just one step. We hope other Caribbean nations like Trinidad, Haiti and Guyana will follow.”