By The Numbers
Deneisha Blackwood likes the number fourteen. That’s her jersey number with the Jamaican national team, the Reggae Girlz. Why fourteen? “I started soccer when I was twelve and two years after I got called in to the national team. I was fourteen and I was like, ‘it’s actually my first year being on the national team, why don’t I choose this number?’ So that’s why I chose fourteen and it just kind of stuck with me.”
She also likes the number twenty-one. “I just feel like it’s a lucky number,” she says. “Right in between twenty and twenty-three, and I feel like that’s a lucky number for me.” On the City of Soccer podcast she explained that, with number fourteen for the Dash already taken by Bri Visalli, she had to choose another number when she signed with the club in January.
Asked if anything auspicious had happened when she was twenty-one, Blackwood suddenly realized “We qualified for the World Cup when I was twenty-one!” In perhaps one of the most suspenseful Concacaf Women’s Championship games ever played, Jamaica faced Panama in the third-place match in fall 2018 with a Women’s World Cup birth on the line. Twice the Reggae Girlz took the lead, and twice Panama equalized, forcing the game to go to penalties. Blackwood stepped up first for Jamaica in the shootout, blasting the ball“left upper ninety,” untouchable. Jamaican keeper Nicole McClure stopped two of Panama’s attempts, the Reggae Girlz converted all of theirs four attempts, and Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Blackwood likes numbers off the field, too. “I want to be an accountant. I love math.” But does that mean that she likes to approach soccer with analytics? “No, definitely not.” Accounting can involve strict order. Is Deneisha an organized person? “I would say, sometimes, not all the time,” she confesses. Her honesty and frankness may be more important for the job. “I think everybody just knows me as the person I am,” she smiles. “What you see is what you get.”
Left Back, Left Foot, Left Hand
Blackwood likes her left — she primarily plays left back for Jamaica, but her potent left foot can be useful in other positions. Playing with Orlando last fall alongside close friend and Reggae Girl teammate Konya Plummer, Blackwood saw time at left midfielder in three games, and started one game at forward.
At both Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas (yes, the school from Netflix’s “Cheer“) and at the University of West Florida, she played striker and led both teams in scoring.
The Dash depth chart at left back has Blackwood and Amber Marshall behind stalwart Allysha Chapman. With the Canadian on international duty for the start of the 2021 Challenge Cup, Blackwood is expected to earn minutes on Houston’s defensive wing. Jamaica had planned a camp in Spain during the April international window that was cancelled due to visa complications. The silver lining for Blackwood is more opportunity with the Dash.
With Erin Simon selected in the Louisville expansion draft last fall, Dash coach James Clarkson brought in Blackwood and Marshall for the left wingback position — “If we play with four at the back,” teased Clarkson, when asked by Hayley Snider of Actually the Dash, “it would be Deneisha or Amber.” A few clubs are experimenting with three-back formations that may alter league norms, but the Dash typically play with four on defense. With “Chappy” expected to miss a large part of the season while playing for Canada in the Olympics, Blackwood could see significant minutes for the Dash.
Blackwood likes her left foot, but is learning to use her right more. “That’s probably the main thing that I’ve seen (Chapman and Marshall) do that I don’t do very much.” The Dash have had ten weeks to prepare this year. “I have learned a lot in the preseason,” she says. “It has been a great experience to watch Chappy train and to learn stuff from her, to learn stuff from Jane (Campbell), and even learn stuff from Amber. It’s so great to be part of the team and to continue to learn about the position.”
Blackwood also likes her left hand. She has a special talent that even other left-handed people will find unique — she can write backwards. “Since I was very young, I don’t know how I started it, but it’s a part of me,” Blackwood explains. “My mom used to always spank me and tell me that I needed to stop, ‘teachers can’t read this.’” They might have had to read her writing in a mirror. “The only thing I don’t do backwards is maths.”
Finding Home in Houston
Blackwood has enjoyed her time in Houston so far. “It’s definitely a place that’s very welcoming. When I first got here I was nervous that it would be a challenge to be in a different city, but everybody here was so welcoming. I feel comfortable and I feel like this is a place where I’m supposed to be.”
On the weather: “Reminds me of home. (In Kingston) it’s always above 84º every day.”
What about this year’s winter storm? “That was my first experience of snow. I played in the Czech Republic in 2019 but it didn’t snow. It was really cool to see it.”
On the food: “I went to the Jamaican restaurant here that’s called Cool Runnings a couple times to get Jamaican food. It’s really good, I would recommend it.”
Has she seen the 1993 movie Cool Runnings? “I’ve only seen it once. My friends were like, ‘you’re from Jamaica and you’ve never seen it?’ It was actually funny. But you guys could have made the accents a little more realistic.” (Disney cast American actors in the roles.)
On the American accent: “It’s normal. I went to school here so I like hearing them talk.”
Has it changed her voice? “I hate hearing myself speak American! Sometimes when I go home for too long and come back to America my accent gets so strong and I throw in Jamaican words when I’m talking to people.”
On her hero: “My mom. She was a single mom of five and she didn’t have her first job until she had me, and I’m the last one. It was so inspiring to see how she raised us despite her difficulties. Everything I do to this day I just do it for her. She deserves everything.”
Will her mom come to Houston to watch her play? “Yes, I think once the league starts up. I was trying to get my mom to come for the first Challenge Cup game but she has stuff to do and won’t be able to make it. But she’ll definitely come to see me playing in games.”
Will her siblings come? “Two of my brothers are here (in the U.S.), one is in Dallas and the other one is in New York. The one in Dallas will definitely come. He’s obsessed with seeing me play.”
On her soccer heroes: “I really love Messi but I feel, playing alongside Marta when I was in Orlando, she’s an amazing player. I think she inspired me, to see how she carried herself in training and off the field, encouraging people.”
On her Houston Dash teammates: “In every quarter of our team, we are all competitors. We all want the same thing which is to play or to be in the starting lineup of every game so it’s definitely a very competitive environment. Be we are also accountable to each other and we make each other better. We’re there for each other.”
What about the Dash book club? “Some of the girls have a little group or book club. We’re actually reading a book called Everybody Always … I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team that has a book club.”
On a social cause important to her: “My biggest thing is helping young players at home. They haven’t been able to get the resources that we get here in America so I give back as much as I can to grammar school kids, young girls and boys who want to play soccer. I want to host a grassroots camp, invite soccer coaches from America to see the talent that’s there in Jamaica, so those girls and boys can showcase their talent.”
Challenge Cup 2021
The Dash host the Chicago Red Stars in the opening match of the 2021 Challenge Cup this Friday, April 9 at BBVA Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online (BBVA is still operating at reduced capacity and many social distancing protocols will be in place.)
The game will air live on CBS Sports Network in the USA and Canada, and on Twitch everywhere else.
The Dash away games at OL Reign on April 16 and at Kansas City on April 26 will stream live on Paramount+ and on Twitch (international). Then the 2020 Cup champs return home to host 2020 Fall Series winner Portland on Sunday, May 2. The 2021 NWSL regular season is set to kick off in mid-May.