GRENOBLE, France – Havana Solaun had dribbled around Lydia Williams, and the net was open, the ball was rolling toward the goal line and the Stade des Alpes crowd was rising to one of the great crescendos this World Cup has seen.
Cheyna Matthews allowed herself to take in the moment and the magic of the Reggae Girlz’ first goal on the biggest stage of all.
“It was very dramatic, because it was a little bit of a slow roller, so we got to really let it sink in before it even hit the net,” she said afterward. “That goal meant a lot for the team, and a lot for Jamaica. … It was surreal, it was amazing.”
The game got more surreal from there. With neutrals joining the hearty Jamaican contingent in cheering on the underdogs, the Reggae Girlz took the game to Australia. They had many chances to equalize before a defensive lapse gave Sam Kerr her third goal of four on the night.
Matildas coach Ante Milicic was as impressed by Jamaica’s performance as everyone else, even though it made his work harder.
“It’s a fantastic story for them,” he said. “I said to the coach [Jamaica’s Hue Menzies,] I was pleased that they had a go, that they wanted to score, that they wanted to attack.”
Matthews’ night came with the bonus of having her family in the stands, including husband Jordan of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and baby son Josiah. Though Josiah was only born last August, Cheyna said he had a sense of what was going on in the stands.
“I got to see him before the game, and he clapped for me before I went into the locker room after warm-ups,” Cheyna said. “That was a crazy moment, and that’s the moment that’s kind of stuck in my head. And obviously, being able to hold him and see him after, and my family all just so proud, it was a good experience.”
Now comes the hard part: continuing the momentum that the Reggae Girlz have built while in the international spotlight.
“Hopefully with the JFF, we continue to get the support that we need,” Matthews said. “Hopefully we get a few more sponsors to help us have more camps and stay together and train — and the Olympics are not out of the question just yet. We’re still pressing forward and looking forward to the next big tournament.
Even though Jamaica lost all three games and scored just one goal, its performances were more than valiant enough to show the world they can play. The squad has four U.S. collegians, one U.S. high schooler and three players listed as unattached.
Teams in the NWSL and Europe that paid attention have seen talent worth scouting. Just ask French club Bordeaux, which signed star Khadija “Bunny” Shaw on the eve of the tournament.
Matthews highlighted that high schooler, Jody Brown, a 17-year-old enrolled in Montverde Academy just outside Orlando. She played in all three games as a substitute.
“They see her, even at that age, being able to play on the senior team,” Matthews said. “She’s not committed to a college yet, but she’s going to go off to college, and I’m almost positive she’ll go on to play pro.”
Matthews is even more certain that her team’s run will inspire the nation back home.
“There are a lot of role models, a lot of people on the team to look up to, and it will help the young girls of Jamaica for sure,” she said. “The public support and people being so aware of what we have going on now, it is going to be a little bit of a magnifying glass on what’s to come next for us.”
The rest of the world should be able to back them up.
“The [outpouring] of support we’ve gotten from any opponent, it’s been amazing,” Matthews said. “Not only our opponents, but just people that are in the soccer world. People that don’t really know a lot about soccer, that have just happened to scan across our stories. The [outpouring] of support is there, now we just need the sponsorships.”