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HomeNewsLocal newsUSVI Preps For Gold Cup As Women’s Soccer Strikes New Heights

USVI Preps For Gold Cup As Women’s Soccer Strikes New Heights

Auset Gibbs of the USVI’s national team said the USA women’s soccer team set new standards. (Photo courtesy of V.I. Soccer Association)

One thing leapt out at Auset Gibbs while watching the 2023 Women’s World Cup: The competition has gotten a lot stronger.

Gibbs, a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands national team, watched with dismay as the top-ranked United States team lost to Sweden — the team’s earliest exit from the tournament to date. But the 24-year-old midfielder didn’t agree with fans and pundits calling the mainland team soft. If anything, she said, they were a victim of their own success.

“I just think the rest of the world is catching up,” Gibbs said from Tennessee, where she works in college administration. “They kind of set a standard and now everybody else want to live up to the standard.”

The Caribbean represented that raised standard as the Jamaican team advanced from the group stage by denying powerhouse Brazil, ranked 8th in the world. Jamaica ranked 43, has long had world-class players on club teams, Gibbs said, but in this tournament, managed to put together a cohesive national team able to thrive on the biggest of platforms.

“It takes a different level of understanding. Smaller countries don’t have such a big pool to pick from. What we do have are people who have the passion, have the love, and have the fanbase to see that,” she said. “It’s definitely something amazing to see.”

Gibbs and the rest of the USVI team, ranked 178 globally, are training for the upcoming Gold Cup qualifiers. They play 168-ranked Grenada Oct. 25 and Dec. 3 and unranked Bahamas Oct. 29 and Nov. 29.

Jorge “Yoyo” Zavala, head coach since 2021, said his players were wrapped up in the excitement of the World Cup and likely wouldn’t pay too much attention to the strategy and techniques on display. His hope, he said, was that they would take note of the extraordinary athleticism and physical conditioning it takes to compete on such a level.

“When we went to the World Cup qualifiers, it was an amazing experience for many of them. A lot of them didn’t even realize at the time that these opportunities existed. We had some players living on the island of St. Thomas who had no idea the Virgin Islands was a member association of FIFA,” Zavala said. To qualify for the team, players must either be born in the territory, have a parent or grandparent born in the territory, or have lived in the USVI for five years.

The majority of the USVI roster are current or former Division I or Division II college players who, like Gibbs, hold down day jobs while not competing. It can be tough to keep in world-class shape, he said.

”They have jobs outside of soccer and some of them are still in college and some of them are still in high school,” Zavala said.

Gibbs, who was born in St. Croix but moved to the mainland at age 10, said it was the thrill of a lifetime to represent the USVI on the world stage.

“We do a lot of traveling but obviously it’s worth it in the end. It means a lot to me, being from the Virgin Islands, being from St. Croix,” she said. “Every match is a blessing. It’s an honor to step on the field.”

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