Peyton McNamara’s first FIFA Women’s World Cup was historic twice over. Last month, The Ohio State University women’s soccer midfielder played for the Jamaican national team, which became the first Caribbean team to reach the tournament’s round of 16 – the stage after countries face off in group play.
But that wasn’t the only historic moment she witnessed. Jamaica’s last game in the group stage was against Brazil. The teams tied 0-0, which sent Brazil home. World-renowned Brazilian player Marta Vieira da Silva had announced this was her last World Cup prior to the tournament’s beginning. Being a part of her story was surreal, McNamara said.
“I grew up watching Marta,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m not in front of a screen now. I’m in person.’ And getting to see [how they play]. It was bittersweet because we won’t get to see Marta play again but also, we were the team to send her home.”
Brazil wasn’t the only competitive team the Jamaicans played. Their first match was against France, ending in another 0-0 tie.
“France is always a top-five team,” she said. “That was a surreal game because that was the start of our World Cup. That set the tone for the rest of the tournament. That game was great.”
While McNamara, a fourth-year international business major, was born in the United States, her mother is Jamaican. FIFA allows players to play for a country other than their home nation if they can demonstrate a clear connection to it, such as a parent or grandparent. McNamara was proud to represent her family.
“It was awesome. I didn’t grow up there … so getting to go back and live through her heritage and see where she grew up, that was meaningful,” she said. “I got to represent my grandparents as well. They weren’t here to see it, but I felt like they were looking down and were proud that I’m representing their country.”
McNamara’s team pride did not overshadow her Buckeye spirit, however. She wore a red or gray headband in each match as a nod to her home team. And that wasn’t all she had planned.
“I wish I had scored because I was ready to do my OH-IO celebration.”
Now that the tournament is over, McNamara is happy to be back in Ohio. With the Paris Olympics next summer, she may have the chance to play for Jamaica again – she was invited to join the team for qualifying matches this fall but declined. She was ready to wear scarlet and gray again.
“I owe it to my team to play when we’re in season,” she said. “I think it’s best to stay and help my teammates. I love being here so much.”
The help McNamara has brought back from the World Cup? Mentoring from older players. While she is a senior and one of the more seasoned players on Ohio State’s team, that was not the case with the Jamaican national team. At 21, she was one of the younger players.
“Their mentality is to put your head down and work hard. And enjoy every moment,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to bring back to this team.”
There were so many moments to enjoy, she said. But the thing that sticks out the most is the number of fans supporting women’s sports.
“I was surprised by how many people were there to support us. It’s a growing sport and it’s a women’s sport, so how many people are going to show up? But stadiums were sold-out all over Australia and New Zealand,” she said. “It didn’t even matter if your country was playing in the game or not. People still found someone to root for.”
The experience is one most people won’t have, she said, so she took in as much as she could.
“You see a stadium filled with 27,000 people, screaming your country’s name and cheering for everything your team does,” she said. “That’s an insane feeling. It was overwhelming, the pride. Now I can say, ‘I did that.’”