By Scott French
Two Jamaican goal-getters, an array of Scandinavian talent, lots of local players and a philosophy rarely seen in summer soccer has the Gulf Coast Texans just 180 minutes from a Women's Premier Soccer League title.
Since all 180 would be played on their home field, it hardly would surprise would they pull it off.
Gulf Coast (9-0-0) is the only perfect side heading into this weekend's WPSL final four in Pensacola, Fla., and that's credit to the work done by David Kemp in assembling a diverse and talented roster, providing it the means to build real chemistry, then demanding the kind of commitment often impossible in short-season leagues.
Everything has gone according to plan, except for the success.
“We've exceeded expectations,” admits Kemp, the Texans head coach and the director of coaching in the youth club, affiliated with national youth powerhouse Dallas Texans, that sponsors the WPSL team. “This is a developmental vehicle for youth players. Any success we have here is just a bonus. Our primary function is to develop talent in the area and develop female role models in the community to show the high level of soccer [our young players] can aspire to.”
Those young charges will get a show this weekend. Gulf Coast meets Salt Lake United (8-0-2) in the nightcap of Saturday's semifinal doubleheader at Ashton Brosnaham Stadium, which begins at 4 p.m. ET when Aztec MA (9-1-1) takes on Oklahoma FC (11-1-2). Sunday's final will be played at 1 p.m.
The Texans have been one of the WPSL's most dominant clubs, scoring at least four times in six of nine games while conceding just seven goals all season -- three of them to the Georgia Revolution, and their standout Liberian striker Cherie Sayon, in the Southeast Conference title game, a 4-3 victory.
“We want to possess the ball and create chances,” Kemp said. “We have plenty of players who are attack-minded, who want to create chances, especially with the Jamaicans up top. They're very unorthodox, can catch anyone out at any moment with individual technical skill. And they work extremely well together, have played together a number of years.”
The Jamaicans are forward Shakira Duncan, a two-time Daktronics NCAA Division II national player of the year at Pensacola's University of West Florida, and Tina Murray, who also starred at West Florida. Duncan has nine goals and four assists and Murray, the Southeast Player of the Year, has eight and eight.
They're the foundation of Gulf Coast's success, but this is a team like few others. There's uncommon chemistry, built through a rigorous training program and almost constant off-the-field bonding: the team gets together several times a week to have fun.
“We've gone to the movies seven times,” Duncan reports. “We've seen every new movie that's come out. Seen them as a team. I can't swim, but I'm going into pools because the whole team is there. We've gone to the beach twice -- the only reason I ever went was to take a [team] photograph for West Florida. We went there to have fun.”
Commitments elsewhere that force players to miss training and games lead “a lot of [summer] teams have 40-plus players on the roster. We wanted 22 committed players who would be available every day ...,” noted Kemp, who developed in English club Charlton's system and played at West Florida. “We really want to work on creating a professional environment. We run a serious program here in summer. We train every day.
“If that's the type of environment you're looking for ... and you get to spend summer in Florida.”
It is an attractive package, and Kemp has added to his base -- young players and alumni from the club along with collegians from West Florida and South Alabama, just an hour away -- with a nice array of foreign talent.
A deep midfield features three players from NAIA powerhouse Lindsey Wilson College: Swedish attacker Mia Persson, Denmark's Ida Gregersen and Japan's Saeda Sueki. The backline is anchored by another Swede, UNC Pembroke's Fanny Forsman -- along with Jessica Oram, one of five players from South Alabama. Brazilian Patricia Nardy, a former star at NAIA power Union College, is in the nets.
Persson, Kemp says, “has come in and made a massive impact with how she trains, in terms of her passing ability, and she's got incredible ball retention.” Nardy is “colorful, with so much personality, keeps everyone smiling and she's very accomplished, too.”
It could be a group worthy of a championship. That's the goal this weekend.
“I think we have to stay relaxed and focused on our own game and not get distracted by the enormity of the event,” Kemp said. “We are a very young team, but if we can stay focused on what's in front of us and play hard, then anything can happen.”