‘It’s been a really great opportunity’

BY SHERDON COWAN, Jamaica Observer

Kayla McCoy realises childhood dream of playing in World Cup, though knee injury threatens.
LYON, France — Like many enthusiastic football fans, Kayla McCoy enjoyed the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup action from the comfort of her home.

The thought of one day playing on that big stage might have come to her at that time, but she ever imagined that the opportunity would be at the very next edition four years later.

Jamaica’s historic qualification as the first Caribbean team to do so, paved the way for McCoy’s inclusion in the Reggae Girlz final 23-player squad for the June 7-July 7 tournament here.

And, as expected, she is elated about being among the many young talents on show at the global showpiece.

“Actually, it’s so exciting that I think that I haven’t like processed it completely yet, and I don’t know at what point I will process it. It all seems very surreal and I think that perhaps when we walk into that first stadium for the first time it will hit me,” the beaming player told the Jamaica Observer.

“But right now I am just taking it one day at a time as this huge event inches closer and closer. It has definitely been like a childhood dream of mine, as I remember sitting in my living room watching the last World Cup, just being in awe of the talent being on that stage.

“I never would have ever thought that the next one I would be playing; in and it’s been a really great opportunity, a really cool journey, and an awesome experience that I am grateful for,” she added.

Unfortunately for the Lincolnwood, Illinois native, who earns her Jamaican stripes through her grandparents — one of whom is Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pearnel Charles Snr — an injury to her left knee is now threatening her participation.

McCoy picked up the injury during the Reggae Girlz’ 2-3 loss in a friendly contest against Scotland in the United Kingdom last Tuesday. The knock left her struggling through the team’s recovery sessions since they arrived here in Lyon on Friday.

She is scheduled to do an MRI today, after which she will be in a race against time to regain full fitness.

“It (being injured) is definitely not the ideal time at all but it kind of comes with the game and it’s a long tournament, so I don’t anticipate being out for too long. I am hopeful that I will recover for the opening game (against Brazil on June 9).

“It is feeling a lot better; I think everyday it feels a bit better. I have been able to do a little bit more with it the past couple of days; I have been biking a lot and jogging a little bit, so I am happy it is feeling better,” McCoy shared.

But amidst her disappointment with the situation, the 22-year-old Duke University graduate is overwhelmed by the experience in the Hue Menzies-conditioned team thus far, having represented the United States at the youth level.

She was a part of the team that defeated Chile 1-0 and 3-2 during the preparation phase.

“I never thought that I would have the opportunity to play for Jamaica. I didn’t realise that that was an option for me and so once Jamaica qualified for the World Cup and coach Hue reached out, I thought it was really cool having the opportunity to represent Jamaica at the senior level. It was unexpected and is an awesome opportunity.

“My family back at home in Jamaica is also thrilled about it and I think some of them are going to come down to France too. My aunt said I took 10 years off my grandad because he is so excited. He is parading me around and framing pictures and everything,” McCoy joked.

With her degree in cultural anthropology and a minor in chemistry, now out the way, McCoy recently launched into the professional arena after being drafted by National Women’s Soccer League team Houston Dash a few months ago.

However, her success in the sporting arena should be no surprise as her father Patrick played football at Northwestern, her mother Joanne ran track and field and cross country at Northwestern, and her sister Brittany played basketball at Minnesota.

“It has been really good; it has definitely been a challenge and kind of like what I have been saying, [that] there has been discouraging aspects along the way coming into a team that is very experienced and very established.

“But I have just been trying to be really patient with myself and have an open mind, and just kind of learn and take in from the players around me. And I feel like I have gotten better in just the short time I have been there, so it’s super encouraging to see what the season holds for us,” she said of her professional career.

But for now, her focus will be on assisting the 53rd-ranked Reggae Girlz on their historic journey here, where they are set to tackle Brazil, Italy and Australia in Group C.

“I am very hard-working and I am the type of player that will consistently work hard throughout the game, regardless of the minute we are in. And not only in games, but in training, too, to give the best I can possibly, and so that can be expected from me throughout my entire time with the senior team here.

“I am just looking forward to the chance to play on the biggest stage in the world, a chance to show and test myself against the best players in the world and kind of see how I match up,” McCoy added.

“As a team it’s time to branch out and play against teams from other parts of the world and see how we match up, but I think everyone is really excited and has high expectations of ourselves. As a group we have set some big goals for ourselves and I think that everybody will kind of rise to the occasion and show our personal flair,” she ended.

After the preliminary and the group stages, the top two teams will automatically progress to the June 23-25 Round of 16, where they will be joined by the four best third-placed teams. From there, teams will then progress to the June 27-29 quarter-finals to battle for semi-final berths.

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