Colorado Rapids assistant head coach Wolde Harris saw the potential in a Lorne Donaldson-led Jamaican national team before anyone else.
Three weeks after he spoke to The Post, his vision became a reality.
“I think he’s gonna use all his tools … He’s been inspiring them and getting them to do things both from a technical level and tactical level that they’ve never done before,” Harris, a former Jamaican international, told The Post ahead of the team’s second straight World Cup appearance. “So, I’m pretty sure you can expect some surprises.”
On Wednesday in Melbourne, Donaldson helped deliver a big one, coaching his “Reggae Girlz” to a stunning knockout stage berth as they eliminated Brazil with a 0-0 draw to finish second in Group F of the Women’s World Cup.
In doing so, Jamaica, a country of 2.8 million, became the first Caribbean nation to reach the round of 16.
“For me (Lorne) has always been a fun-loving guy. He likes to see the game differently and likes to attack,” Harris said. “He’s one of these coaches who obviously knows what it takes to win games, but he loves creativity. He loves a bit of flair here and there, but he’s pragmatic at the same time.”
Pragmatism is what has propelled Jamaica’s run. The Reggae Girlz blanked one of the tournament favorites, France, in its opening game and beat Panama 1-0 in its second.
Before kickoff, Donaldson knew Brazilian “attacks in waves” would come. He was spot-on. The Brazilians outshot Jamaica 18-3 and had 72% possession but didn’t score, as goalkeeper Becky Spencer had eight saves.
Closer to home, the Donaldson and Harris families’ paths have crossed through soccer for generations. Harris’ dad, Trevor “Jumpy” Harris, a hall-of-fame coach at Michigan State, coached Donaldson when he was in high school in Jamaica. Later, Donaldson became Wolde Harris’ first pro coach in 1996 when he signed with the Colorado Foxes, the precursor to the Rapids.
“He’s more on the family side, honestly,” Harris said.
Since joining the coaching ranks in 1983, Donaldson, 67, has long been at the forefront of Colorado soccer. Now the president of Centennial-based youth soccer club Real Colorado, he’s coached the likes of Mallory Swanson, Sophia Smith and several of the other 19 Coloradans who now ply their craft in the NWSL.
Even with his coaching pedigree, the road to the knockout stages hasn’t come without challenges.
Jamaica players made headlines before the tournament when they issued a statement calling out the Jamaican Football Federation over its handling of compensation and training conditions. As a result, two separate crowdfunding efforts emerged — one from the Reggae Girlz Foundation and another from midfielder Havana Solaun’s mother, Sandra Phillips-Brower — that raised over $100,000 to pay for meals, accommodations and other items so the team could focus on soccer.
“The off-the-field, financial and sponsorship stuff, he just looks to problem-solve with the resources that he has both here in the States and Jamaica,” Harris said.
At the podium, Donaldson has been an advocate for smaller nations around the globe to expand its women’s soccer footprint. And in the newly-expanded 32-team field, surprising results have popped up everywhere: South Africa and Nigeria secured last 16 status, then Germany, the No. 2 team in the world, crashed out in the final day of group-stage play as Morocco and Colombia moved on.
“The smaller countries will realize that there’s a platform out there and I think young women all over the world, they’re looking,” Donaldson said Tuesday. “I think all of these governments, everybody, it’s time to step up. Cut the bull crap and step up for women’s football and let’s move along.”
Following the celebrations Wednesday, Donaldson was asked about being the tournament’s Cinderella team, as it now faces Colombia and its raucous fanbase at 2 a.m. Tuesday in Melbourne.
“We are going to take it one game at a time and that is our approach,” he said. “When we started our preparation, we did not look at Brazil. We looked at Brazil three days ago. We look at Panama a few days before the game. We look at France before we played them.
“Whoever we play next, that is who we are going to focus on. If we can wear a pretty dress, we will put it on.”
In July, Harris was asked about Donaldson’s near-constant optimistic outlook. Even then, Harris had a hunch Donaldson could get the job done.
“I think him being that jovial, open person who’s attacking and creative-minded,” Harris said, “bodes well for the Jamaican girls because from a culture standpoint, that’s the kind of people we are.”
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