It was an opportunity of a lifetime that couldn’t be missed when Chante Sandiford was invited to play for the Guyana Lady Jags soccer team.
Representing a national side was just as appealing as following in the footsteps of her father, Wendell “Figuero” Sandiford, who was an outstanding Guyanese goalkeeper in the 1970s.
A delay in securing her Guyanese passport and clash of dates with commitments to her professional club in Iceland forced Sandiford to miss the first round of the Rio Olympic qualifiers last August in the Dominican Republic.
With the Lady Jags advancing to a four-team single round elimination in Trinidad & Tobago, Sandiford – who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011 and played in the Russian League – was ready to step in goal and help Guyana advance to next month’s Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Women’s Olympic tournament in Texas.
“I felt like if I was joining family when I went to Trinidad,” she told Share while in the Greater Toronto Area earlier this month for a one-week training camp. “I was readily accepted by the players and coaching staff and I was very happy to contribute to the team.”
The eldest of three children who migrated to the United States in January 1980, Sandiford’s father was one of Guyana’s leading goalkeepers.
“It’s great to play the same position he did,” she said. “He taught me a lot about the game and the position.”
The 2013 Russian League Goalkeeper of the Year and former assistant coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said her father, who resides in Maryland, was excited she made the team.
“He has been calling a lot to find out how I am doing,” she said. “My parents are very supportive and dad will definitely be in Houston along with other family members who reside there to see me play. It’s a real honour to represent Guyana which I am looking forward to visiting for the first time very soon.”
The Lady Jags team comprises Canadian and American players of Guyanese heritage.
A total of 20 players attended the six-day camp in Markham. The group included newcomer Cameo Hazlewood, a forward who completed her freshman season last year at Penn State. Her father, Dr. Dexter Hazlewood who is based in Peoria, Illinois, graduated from Guyana’s Christ Church High School in 1977 and Columbia University where he was a left winger.
Guyana Soccer Federation technical director Claude Bolton and Mark Rodrigues, who started the women’s program seven years ago, conducted the camp.
“The focus was on ensuring the players don’t overlook the basics and getting them to accept their responsibilities in their particular area of the field,” said Bolton who represented Guyana in 1988 and was the West Rouge Soccer Club first full-time coaching director.
Guyana, ranked 79th in the world, is in the same group with 11th-ranked Canada, 48th-ranked T & T and Guatemala, which is ranked 76th in the world.
Bolton isn’t intimidated by the challenge.
“Our players have played at the collegiate level and some of them have gone on to be professionals,” he said. “That means they can play the game well. As long as we are disciplined and execute our game plan, we will have success. We are going to Houston with the intention of trying to win every game.”
The players will regroup in Houston on February 6.
“Every player has a physical regime they have to follow and they are required to report to a professional trainer weekly wherever they are based,” added Bolton, a former Peterborough City Soccer Association and Trent University head coach and Vancouver Whitecaps regional youth head coach whose parents migrated to Canada in the late 1960s.
Guyana starts its campaign on February 11 against Canada before meeting Guatemala three days later and T & T on February 16.
Humber College graduate Ashlee Savona said the new players are a welcomed addition.
“They have come in and done a great job so far,” said Savona who is an assistant coach with the women’s soccer program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The other group comprises the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
By RON FANFAIR