The best gift that women’s football can give is the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This year’s edition was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand which made it quite difficult to watch live matches. If you were lucky, you’d be able to catch a match at 10 p.m. ET. If you weren’t so lucky then you were left to fend for matches between midnight and 10 a.m. the following day. But those of us who love the game knew this months in advance so we could plan. I, for one, decided that whenever my three countries of choice played, I would watch their matches live. Those countries were the USA, Haiti, and Jamaica.
Truth be told, I was more excited about the two island nations competing than the U.S. Women’s National Team. Our ladies have been here before, boasting four stars above the U.S. crest. Jamaica and Haiti were debutants and set to feature a swath of young talent that I couldn’t wait to see. Nérilia Mondésir, Danielle Étienne, and Melchie Dumornay are just a few names that I follow that featured on the big stage this summer. But the biggest and best story of them all came from Jamaica.
The Reggae Girlz fought hard to earn their spot in the World Cup and put up a valiant fight in the group stage. They too, had a cache of players that I was familiar with, from forward Khadija “Bunny” Shaw to goalkeeper Sydney Schneider. But there was one player who immediately caught my attention in the match against France. In the 71st minute, I saw a confident young 17-year-old enter the pitch to replace Atlanta Primus. A high school senior from Atlanta, Georgia making her World Cup debut. I was equally shocked as I was impressed at what was taking place before my eyes. It was right then and there that I knew I had to feature the young baller, Solai Washington.
The day was Saturday, August 19, and two important items were set for that day: watch the Australia vs. Sweden replay and talk to one of the best ballers the state of Georgia has ever produced, Solai Washington. So after seeing my poor Matildas fall at home to Sweden 2-0 (there’s always a soft spot for the host nation), it was time to handle business.
A current senior at Chamblee High School, Solai Washington is a Gatorade State High School Player of the Year, Class 5A Player of the Year, and an ECNL U18/19 All-American. What’s most interesting to me is how she got to this point, because her zest for ‘soccer’ didn’t come from her parents.
“I started young, at 3 years old, and the only reason I started playing was because my older sister was involved in it,” she explains. “I wanted to do everything she did. Neither of my parents played soccer growing up. I was in a bunch of different sports and just gravitated towards soccer; it was the only sport that kept my interest. So it’s been 14 years and I’m still loving it.”
I’ve been on what they’d call ‘the cusp’ with the U.S. team, but at the end of the day, Jamaica is the country that saw my potential. I loved my time with Jamaica, I’ve had camps with them since January. I can tell that the coaches have my future in mind and they’re focused on the team and family. I like that I’m with Jamaica and excited for the future.”Solai Washington on choosing to represent Jamaica
Jamaica made history by qualifying for their first-ever Women’s World Cup. Their solid play helped them advance from the group stage to the round of 16 where they fell to Colombia. Making it to a World Cup should be celebrated itself, but to perform how they did in their first-ever appearance will be remembered forever. “It feels surreal,” Solai says of being a part of history. “I can’t even fathom the fact that we were just there making history and making our country proud. It was an amazing experience.”
As a player on the frontline, she usually plays in the center forward position or out wide as one of the wingers. There’s always a certain level of passion behind a player’s preferred style, but I love it when that killer instinct comes out of attackers. “I pride myself on my 1 v 1 abilities, taking players on, and going to goal,” she said confidently. “Whether it’s crossing it in or getting a shot off, those are my two main objectives and what I try to do most.” She’s an attacking player with the technical ability and pace to play both sides of the ball. Whether that’s front to back or side to side, tracking back or getting to through-balls.
I’ve been with him for awhile now and his coaching is like no other. I credit so much of my development to him.”Solai Washington on her club coach Garvin Quamina
To be so young, she speaks with such certainty and determination that you’d think you were talking to a veteran. But even with her professional demeanor and her World Cup appearance, her youthful exuberance was on full display when asked how she was managing everything. “It’s definitely been interesting (laughs). It feels like I’m living two separate lives. When I’m at camp, I’m zoned in on everything I’m doing with Jamaica. When I’m in school, I’m zoned in on my club team and school. So it’s like two completely separate lives.”
Washington plays her club ball in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) for Concorde Fire. Her legendary 04′ team is managed by none other than Coach Garvin Quamina. Ever since our initial meeting in 2019, all I ever hear about this man is winning. So I asked her straight up, is this man the best coach out there? “I think so yes,” she replied confidently. “I’ve been with him for a while now and his coaching is just like no other. I credit so much of my development to him. Off the pitch, mentally, he’s given me books to read about the game, plays to watch, players to watch and learn from, and on the pitch every day at practice everyone’s locked in. Everyone’s going for a common goal which is winning Nationals. I think that for sure he’s one of the best out there.”
As our conversation was nearing its conclusion, she alluded to the fact that she committed to Duke. A stressful process by her own admission, the youngster was won over at the campus visit. “I went on my official visit in September and fell in love. I love the campus, how focused they are on academics, and their coaching staff was amazing.” The National Women’s Soccer League features a handful of former Duke standouts including Michelle Cooper (Kansas City Current), Caitlin Cosme (Orlando Pride), and Lily Nabet (Angel City FC).
In the women’s game, some of the best players in the wing position include Lauren James (Chelsea), Delphine Cascarino (Lyon), and Nikita Parris (Man United). Stateside, you’d have to include rising stars Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit) and Sophia Smith (Portlands Thorns). Solai chooses to model her game after the latter. “I think she’s found a lot of success up top and is really good 1 v 1,” says Washington. “She has a really good brain for soccer and can pick out runs, so people have told me to watch her. Although she’s just starting out her career, she’s been able to make a big impact very quickly and that’s something I want to be able to do.”
In a more perfect world, the standard for football clubs would be to have both men’s and women’s programs. Most of the bigger clubs around the world have a women’s team, but the question is, do they have top-tier players like their male counterparts? Paris Saint-Germain is a good example. While the men’s side has superstars like Kylian Mbappé and Achraf Hakimi, the women’s side is loaded with ballers too. French sensation Sakina Karchaoui and Dutch superstar Lieke Martens were featured in multiple Women’s World Cup matches this summer and play club-level ball for PSG. With both sides harnessing so much talent and consistently winning trophies, it wasn’t surprising to hear they earned Washington’s support. Her favorites fluctuate but she does support PSG (men’s and women’s), Manchester City (women), and Chelsea (women) since she loves Sam Kerr. “I follow her [Sam Kerr] religiously. I love her, she’s my top three all-time favorite players,’ says Washington.
Sam Kerr, who plays for Chelsea, is one of the best forwards in the game. But before Kerr made her introduction to the world and etched her name in women’s football history, she started with Western Knights Soccer Club. The very first Ballon d’Or Féminin went to Ada Hegerberg in 2018. She was playing with Olympique Lyon and was regarded as the best women’s player in the world… but she started her career with Kolbotn IL. The point is no matter your journey, you have to start somewhere. We’re fortunate to have a global superstar in the making right here in Atlanta with Concorde Fire and we’re catching her before she ascends. The trio of Kerr, Hegerberg, and Washington made their international debuts as teenagers. So before she takes over the world, get to know Solai as a person before the world discovers her as a player.
Photos: All photos provided by Solai Washington