With the qualifying matches for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup starting next month, Havana Solaun will be a key player in Jamaica’s squad.
I chatted with Havana about her childhood growing up in several countries, her love of the game, injuries and her international career.
Q: I understand you were born in Hong Kong, then lived in several other countries, which were they?
I was born in Hong Kong but only lived there until I was two and a half so I have zero recollection of Hong Kong. I moved to Florida for a couple of years then to Singapore for a little over a year. Then I went back to Florida, to Canada and returned to Florida.
Q: How was that growing up and experiencing these different cultures?
I think experiencing a lot of cultures at an early age provides a learning experience that is really second to none. Being able to experience different cultures and ways of life is very important. It’s also a privilege, not everyone has that ability.
My parents had jobs in different places which is why we moved around as much as we did. Canada is quite similar to the States so there’s not a huge cultural difference but Singapore was quite unique – a lot of the school was in Mandarin which I didn’t speak at that age.
Q: How did you find attending school overseas? Do you speak other languages?
No, when I lived in Singapore I was still quite young. In that school there was an Australian student and other students that didn’t speak Mandarin either.
Q: Where did your love of football come from? And when did you start playing?
I started when I was in Florida. My whole family plays tennis so we had tennis racquets in our hands as soon as we could walk. When I was in second grade my teacher encouraged me to play on a team. My sisters and I then joined a team which was fun but it was always 3 v 3. I think I played 3 v 3 until I was 14 or 15. After that I joined a boys team in Jacksonville and that was 11 a side.
Q: Who were your sporting role models or influences growing up?
Growing up there weren’t really influences from football or least not until high school or college, as the previous women’s leagues in the States had folded. From a fan stand point I was quite back and forth between football and tennis. There wasn’t really someone that I idolised. When I got older I became a big fan of Lionel Messi, it’s hard not to be and for tennis I grew up watching the Williams sisters.
Q: Did you play any other sports in school or have you always been focussed on football?
In my sophomore year, my mum thought I should pick between football and tennis. I actually picked tennis initially but I played a season of tennis and decided that I needed to go back to football.
Q: After attending the University of Florida, you were drafted by Seattle Reign. Was it a big step up from playing university football?
I think that it’s a big credit to the college I came from because they did a really good job on the developmental side so I didn’t find the step up to be huge. I tore my ACL during my junior season so in my senior season I was trying to get back into it. I found the transition to the pro level not as drastic as I expected.
Q: I know that you’re currently with North Carolina Courage, but you played in Europe for a couple of years, were you ever tempted to look at any British clubs?
I actually can’t play in England, it’s not an option for me. In order to be eligible to play in England, you must play for international team that is ranked above thirty. Since Jamaica falls below thirty, I can’t get in but there are some exemptions as there are Jamaicans playing in England right now.
Q: And are there any European teams that you still follow?
I loved Norway and enjoyed my experience there. The level wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be. But I liked the team (Klepp), my teammates, the coach and the country is beautiful.
Q: How serious is your recent knee injury? And how’s the rehab going? And what’s the time frame for your recovery?
I tore my meniscus towards the end of the season. I had to have surgery. It will take six months to return and I believe I’m two and half months in. I was on crutches for a while and that was terrible. I don’t think I’ll be ready for the start of pre-season but we don’t have our start dates yet. I should be ready for around the beginning of the season.
Q: It must be hard sometimes to keep your spirits up, so how have you been filling your time away from the pitch?
I think being injured is almost more time consuming than being healthy, just from a personal training standpoint. Just with the knee specific PT and I believe that being injured requires more focus and attention. Rehab is constant but doesn’t necessarily count as your workout for the day.
Q: You made your international debut for Jamaica in 2019. When did you first hear about Jamaica’s interest in you? And what is your connection to the island?
They actually got in contact in 2015, I was just coming back from breaking my leg and they had a training camp near me. I wasn’t cleared to play yet but they wanted me to come and meet the team. The camp was in Orlando but it was far from organised so I thought I couldn’t commit.
However, when I was healthy, I went to another camp in Jamaica and it was a totally different experience. There was an improvement in the organisation and a solid group of girls.
I was in Jamaica when I applied for my passport. My mum was born in Kingston and she lived there until she was 11 or 12 and then she moved to the Bahamas.
Q: After being called into the squad, how did you find the experience? Which players helped you settle in?
To be honest the entire group was welcoming and the extent to which they welcomed me in slightly caught me off guard. That was a big part of why I decided to keep playing with them. It’s a really special group.
Q: In that summer, you scored Jamaica’s first ever Women’s World Cup goal. Can you describe how you felt when the ball hit the back of net?
To be honest, I just remember it being silent. After the game when I was interviewed they said the crowd went wild but I can’t recall hearing any of it. Once I scored I remember my teammates voices, I don’t really remember the crowd.
Q: Did you get the opportunity to visit Jamaica much when you were younger?
I’ve been to Jamaica probably over a dozen times. I’ve been to a lot of the places throughout the island. Most of the camps are based in Kingston and my mum still has family in Montego Bay.
Q: In February, the 2023 World Cup qualifiers will begin; do you think Jamaica can qualify another World Cup?
I won’t be ready by the February dates and we’ve actually only had one camp since the World Cup. We’ve had a lot of issues with the federation and because of that we haven’t been able to get together. It’s difficult to know what group is actually being considered for February. Our players are spread across different countries so I don’t have much interaction with them.
Q: What are your goals/ambitions for 2022?
I think a healthy season is really important to me. My start with North Carolina Courage has been good, so that’s my focus really.