Canadians are prominent part of Jamaica's Reggae Girlz World Cup squad
May 29, 2019
Spending time with the world’s fastest man and his relatives was the only thing on Chanel Hudson-Marks mind when she landed in Jamaica six years ago for a ‘Bolt Family Reunion’.
While on the island, the cousin of Usain Bolt, considered the greatest sprinter of all-time, learnt there was a soccer mini-camp for players wishing to represent Jamaica.
“I attended a few practices,” recalled Hudson-Marks whose parents, Wayne Marks and Angella Hudson are Jamaican immigrants. “Before that, I had learnt about the women’s program through a friend (Cachet Lue debuted with the Jamaica Under-17 team in 2012).
Little did the defender know at the time that she would be part of history as a member of the first Jamaican and Caribbean women’s soccer team to play in the World Cup.
“A few years ago, my biggest goal was to get a soccer scholarship,” said Hudson-Marks who recently graduated with a Marketing Management degree from the University of Memphis. “Going to the World Cup is beyond my dream. The only other people that are happier than me are my parents. Seeing the huge smiles on their faces makes me appreciate this moment even more.”
The Pine Ridge Secondary School graduate and former North Mississauga Club representative, who started playing the sport at age three, made her Jamaican debut in 2015 at the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Under-20 competition.
Hudson-Marks is among three Canadians in the Reggae Girlz 23-member World Cup squad.
Toronto-born Tiffany Cameron, who plays professionally in Norway, joined the squad in Florida last week.
At age seven, Yazmeen Jamieson fractured her right hand while running into a doorpost in her mother’s condo. She played tennis at the time.
“I told Yaz she could cry today, but tomorrow she had to pick herself up,” recalled her mom, Gail Strachan. “I put a soccer ball at her feet the next day and she was turned on to the sport.”
Fluent in French, Jamieson is one of three goalkeepers in the squad that defeated Panama 3-1 in its final warm-up game in Jamaica on May 19.
The Bayview Glen School graduate and 2017 Grenada Association of Toronto Diaspora Award winner attended her first Reggae Girlz camp as a 15-year-old.
While touring Jamaica with Unionville-Milliken in 2013, then women’s program technical director Vin Blaine, upon learning that Jamieson was of Jamaican heritage, got permission for her to switch jerseys and play for the Under-20 team in their game against the Canadian club side.
“I went back two years ago and never thought I would be playing at this level much less going to a World Cup,” said the Carleton University third-year student.
The product of a Jamaican father and Grenadian mother made the Jamaican Under-17 World Cup team, but was unable to secure a Jamaican passport in time to play in the tournament.
“When I sent an email to coach Hue Menzies telling him I wanted to try out for the World Cup, he told me to buy a ticket and come down to Florida,” said 21-year-old Jamieson whose paternal grandparents, Sheila Mason and her late husband Roy Mason, helped her grasp a clearer understanding of her Jamaican heritage. “My mom is a single parent and I wasn’t sure if she could make that investment in me. She did and I am forever grateful for that opportunity.”
Jamieson and the other goalkeepers have been working closely with Canadian-born Hubert Busby Jr. who represented English clubs Millwall, Crystal Palace and Oxford United, Portuguese team Caldas, Canadian sides Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps and was the starting goalkeeper for the Toronto Lynx in 1998 ahead of talented goalies like Theo Zagar and Jim Larkin.
“Since Yaz has been part of the program in the last three years, she has worked very hard to improve her fitness and technical game,” said Busby who was born in Kingston, Ontario to immigrants from Jamaica and Aruba. “She has also shown the dedication needed to play the sport at the highest level. Her breakthrough moment came when she was thrown into a very hostile environment in the Central American & Caribbean Games in Colombia in front of a hostile crowd of about 5,000 that felt like 50,000 crazy fans. She was arguably our best player and that showed that the faith the coaches placed in her was real.”
As for Hudson-Marks, Busby – who was invited to join the Reggae Boyz squad in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago in 2001 -- said she has made great strides since representing Jamaica at the Under-20 tournament.
“Chanel’s positional sense has improved and she now has a better understanding of her role and responsibility,” he pointed out. “Even though wiry, she is tough and incredibly strong. She’s not always the most vocal player, but she does her talking on the field.”
Busby, who was involved in coaching capacities with the Ottawa Wizards, the Toronto Lynx, the Los Angeles Sol, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders, joined the Jamaican women’s program in 2015.
He said the Reggae Girlz are ready for the big stage.
Jamaica’s group matches are against Brazil on June 9, Italy five days later and Australia on June 18.
“The foundation of the group has been together for the past four to five years,” said Busby who has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Queen’s University and Sports Management credentials from the Professional Footballers Union in London. “A culture has been created, so the players who are from all parts of the world have gelled well. There is no ‘me’ culture around this group. Playing for Jamaica and the next generation is first and foremost.”
In November 2015, Busby reached out to fellow Canadian Sanford Carabin to join the Jamaican squad at the CONCACAF Under-20 tournament in Honduras.
“They were building a coaching staff and there were areas they sort of wanted to build out in terms of best practices that other countries have,” he said. “One of the areas I have been working with in the Greater Toronto Area with my League One teams and my district in the last decade is performance analysis. I started very early videotaping games as educational tools for players and coaches. I began with match analysis and that evolved into scouting the opposition for every tournament and qualifier.
“I break down the opposition team tendencies and provided the coaching staff with suggestions on building a game plan to exploit some weaknesses we may have seen on video, whether it be set pieces or the way they defended. When we play a game now, we take individual player clips and look at how they are performing on the field based on the system we want to play. I recently started player development feedback."
The Durham Region Soccer Association Technical Director since January 2102 and Performance Sports Group Managing Director for the last 19 years, Carabin stepped down as Seneca College’s coach in October 2018 after five years on the job to focus on Jamaica’s World Cup preparation.
Ranked 53rd in the World, Jamaica is the smallest country with the least financial resources in the global quadrangular tournament.
That doesn’t faze the team management and players, including forward Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw who is the country’s best player. She scored two goals and set up the other in the warm-up match against Panama.
“I grew up in Jamaica and saw the challenges that the women’s game faced,” said the University of Tennessee Communications Studies graduate who lost three brothers to gun violence and another to a car accident. “It means a lot to be going to the World Cup and showcasing our talent on the world stage. Our historic appearance will hopefully inspire other female players. I know much is expected from me and, with the help of my teammates who work hard to give me the ball and trust me to score goals, I will do everything I can to show that we belong and can compete with any team in the world.”
The Reggae Girlz are indebted to Cedella Marley – the first child of Bob and Rita Marley – who rescued the program and is their global ambassador.
The program received a financial boost from the Bob Marley Foundation which she heads.
“I don’t look at the Bob Marley Foundation as the savior,” said Marley who flew in from Miami to watch the match against Panama at the National Stadium. “You can’t be a proud Jamaican and be in a position to step up and not do so. We believed in the girls and they believed in themselves. We are highly blessed and motivated. Through this qualification, we are now having more conversations about women and soccer.”
It was Marley who contacted British-born Jamaican-raised Hue Menzies five years ago to help Jamaica in its 2015 World Cup qualification bid.
“Cedella wanted me to be a consultant as there was a head coach already in place,” said Menzies who gave up his Wall St. financial analyst job to help young soccer players hone their skills. “They were looking for a facility in Florida and with me being in Orlando, I agreed to help the Jamaica Football Federation get a facility. I had no intention of coaching the team. I just wanted to facilitate their needs. They asked me to help out with a couple of training sessions and I eventually did all 10 days for them. I just felt like I was giving back.”
Menzies was accredited to travel to Canada for the World Cup and named the women’s program technical adviser four years ago.
The support for the Reggae Girlz has been overwhelming leading up to the World Cup.
However, former Toronto resident Olivia “Babsy’ Grange, who is Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport, urged the private sector to do more to support the women’s program.
“Our government is committed to giving them all the support they need,” she added. “They have made Jamaica very proud. What is so great is that we have showed them the entire country is behind them.”
In 1998, the Reggae Boyz made it to the World Cup for the first time and defeated Japan 2-1 in their final group game.
Twenty one years later back in France, the women are following in their footsteps aiming for big success.