Most athletes go through career low points. For Marlo Sweatman, that low point came after her one season at Florida State where she only saw the field six times as the Seminoles made the College Cup.
Sweatman transferred to Oregon and hit the reset button on her soccer career, eventually launching her to the heights of the World Cup.
“These coaches took a chance on me and brought me into the program and got me into my high peak,” Sweatman said. “So I give a lot of credit to them for bringing me back into my career and setting me straight.”
At Oregon, Sweatman became a captain her senior year and played as a defensive midfielder throughout her three-year career. The Ducks’ coaches knew they had a special player, but for her to get to the next level, she needed to tweak certain aspects of her game.
“We knew that she had the qualities and the soccer IQ and, to be fair, she had been involved at the youth levels before she came to Oregon,” Oregon associate head coach Manny Martins said. “The question mark was always going to be fitness and athleticism. I think what’s great about Marlo is she wasn’t denying that those were the hurdles.”
Sweatman says she has sorted out her fitness, which has helped her become a more attack-minded midfielder. And after graduation following the 2016-17 season, she became a professional, taking her from a town with one road and one restaurant in Sweden to the Netherlands to her current club, St. Mihály, in Hungary.
She got the call from the Jamaica first team for the CONCACAF Caribbean Women’s Qualifiers in May 2018, in which she and Jamaica beat Guadeloupe 13-0 in her first game for the senior team. Sweatman will be playing this summer in France at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and will be the first Duck to play at a World Cup.
“I don’t even know what to expect,” she said. “It’s going to be so unreal and so amazing.”
Sweatman, who was born and raised in Virginia, chose to play for her mother’s home nation of Jamaica over the United States after receiving youth team call-ups.
“When I was choosing between the US and Jamaica to play for, I always felt that I’d rather play for a team that qualifies for the first time in their history than being just another player in a pool.”
Sweatman did exactly that. On October 17, 2018, Sweatman and Jamaica qualified for the Women’s World Cup by beating Panama in a shootout for the third and final CONCACAF spot at the tournament.
“It really didn’t hit me until we were in the moment of how big the stage was,” Sweatman said. “Just waiting for the PKs to start, my stomach’s in my throat, but I was very confident in our team.”
Jamaica will play in a group with Brazil, Australia and Italy. Brazil, which Jamaica plays first on June 9, has been a dominant force in the game for Sweatman’s entire life thanks to players like six-time world player-of-the-year Marta, who may miss the Jamaica game due to injury, and Formiga, who is playing in her seventh World Cup. But Sweatman says she is most weary of Australia, a fast-paced, high-scoring team led by goal-scoring machine Sam Kerr.
It will be intimidating for Sweatman and Jamaica, but it won’t be the first time the team will play against high-caliber talent.
In the semifinal of the CONCACAF Cup, which serves as the qualifying tournament for the World Cup, Jamaica played the United States.
“Your first few thoughts are, ‘Wow that’s Alex Morgan or Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, all of them.’ You’re a little starstruck, especially when you’re in that tunnel lining up with the starting 11,” Sweatman said. “Then you realize, you’re just like them and you can compete in any match. Once the whistle blew, it was just another game.”
The winner earned a spot at the World Cup. A loss meant a third-place game for the final automatic spot, which Jamaica earned in that shootout win over Panama.
The team’s qualification and success has made them a recognizable group back on the island.
“It’s a small country,” Sweatman said. “When we drive on the bus, they’re waving and you hear them saying ‘Oh it’s the Reggae Girlz.’ It’s very moving and a lot of people recognize us.”
To top it all off, Sweatman will get to share part of her World Cup with Manny Martins, who is scouting future opponents for the United States women’s national team.
“It’s really cool that Manny can see me at the highest stage knowing he was a part of my journey,” Sweatman said. “It’s just amazing that two Ducks will be at the World Cup.”
As the first ever Duck to play in the World Cup, Sweatman is setting a precedent and leaving an important message for young players with World Cup-sized dreams.
“Never give up on your dreams no matter how low you get, because obviously I was at one of the top schools — Florida State — and decided to transfer because it wasn’t the right path for me,” she said. “Just because you fail once doesn’t mean you can’t end up at the world stage later down the road.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow