Who does Jamaica turn to with Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw suspended?

The preeminent Man City forward was shown a red card in stoppage time of a 0-0 Group Stage draw against France.

Player of the match Deneisha Blackwood was lifted up by her Jamaica teammates. Tossed up into the Sydney air on the pitch at Allianz Stadium.

Smiles, laughter, and jubilation. You wouldn’t know the match had ended in a draw, because the result meant so much more than that. And rightly so.

It was a historic day for Jamaica, who secured their first-ever World Cup point with a 0-0 draw against France in the first match of Group F.

The performance had been sturdy and focused. A complete 90-minute defensive display from the Caribbean Islanders. Compact banks of four. Intensity.

After the match, head coach Lorne Donaldson even dubbed the draw the “number one” result in the history of Jamaican men’s and women’s football

But that momentous draw would taste just a bit sweeter had the Reggae Girlz finished the match with 11 players. And - perhaps even more importantly - if they had their biggest star, Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, available for the next match against Panama.

Shaw was dismissed after being shown a second yellow card for a sloppy slide tackle that has split opinion. It’s one of those refereeing decisions that exist in a grey area.

There were times in the match a yellow should’ve been shown, and the ref didn’t go to her pocket. Other times, like this, she felt like it was reckless play.

The Jamaican forward hurled herself into the challenge quite brazenly but appears to graze only the outside of French defender Wendie Renard’s boot. The minimal contact provokes a somewhat hysterical reaction from the Frenchwomen, that doesn’t quite add up to the contact it resulted from. That’s football.

In my opinion, Shaw should have known better. She was already on a yellow card and had committed two fouls in the match. For any player, it’s risky to go to ground when you’re in that situation. You just don’t make the ref have to make that decision.

When you weigh up the risk vs. reward of the situation, it becomes even more naive. The ball that Shaw is chasing is a probable clearance in France’s third of the pitch. There’s not much threat to Jamaica, and it’s already so close to going out of play.

As for the attempted tackle itself. I don’t think the amount of contact is essential to make this a yellow card. A torrent of rain had poured in Sydney that night. For me, the referee had every right to read that situation as a caution. Shaw doesn’t get the ball, or lunge far enough away from Renard as if to indicate she was only throwing her legs in an attempt to block the kick.

Renard and Shaw had been sparring all match. With the Jamaican for the most part getting the better of the Frenchwoman. Les Bleus were unsettled for the entire first half and just after halftime. A huge factor in causing that destabilization was Shaw’s ability to take contact and open up space by drawing defenders in.

The Man City forward remains one of the best line-leading forwards in the game. A velcro touch, nous and subtle movements. A World Cup match without her is cruel.

So how do you replace ‘Bunny’?

The last time Jamaica played Panama was in a send off match in Kingston in May 2019. It was a few weeks before that summer’s World Cup, the first Jamaica had ever qualified for. That contest ended 3-1 to the home team, and (to the surprise of very few) Shaw scored a first-half brace.

Jamaica isn’t used to winning or scoring many goals without Shaw in recent years. Since making her debut in 2015, she has an extraordinary 55 goals in 39 appearances.

Donaldson has brought seven other forwards in his 23-player squad to Australia and New Zealand: Jody Brown, Cheyna Matthews, Kayla McKenna, Paige Bailey-Gayle, Kameron Simmonds, Tiffany Cameron and Kikki Van Zanten. Combine them all and you get a total of 81 caps and 23 goals.

Not all of those players are a likely fit to be deployed in Shaw’s central forward role. Their profiles and usage vary greatly.

Brown and Matthews1, who both started against France as wingers (on the left and right respectively), will almost definitely feature in the Panama match. Either one could also be moved more central as a replacement for Shaw.

In terms of goalscoring, they are Jamaica’s next best options. Brown has been quite prolific for Jamaica, scoring 12 goals in 19 appearances, but is mostly known for her ability to carry the ball in wide channels and then cut in.

Matthews, who has 20 international appearances, only recently came back from having her third child in 2022. Minutes on the pitch haven’t been that consistent but she has been a bright spark for the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL. She has one assists from two starts (252 minutes) this season.

Against France, Matthews was brave on the ball and happy to break into the final third and try and make something happen. After Shaw, Jamaica’s most lively attacker. Brown was maybe slightly more withdrawn than usual, as if consumed by having to produce such a dialed in defensive display.

Cheyna Matthews in the iconic cradling the baby pose once fashioned by Bebeto | FIFA

But neither of these two are known for their hold up play. They’re better at stretching the pitch, progressing the ball from the halfway line or getting in behind the backline. Donaldson might want to keep his next best attackers in their most useful positions.

Jamaica have pretty much always played with one centre forward in variations of 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1. The most like-for-like option, when it comes to replacing Shaw, is Simmonds.

A star of the Jamaican U20 program, the 19-year-old is currently a sophomore at the University of Tennessee. She comes from a footballing family, and is the third generation in her family to play for the Jamaican national team (after father Greg and grandfather Patrick).

In her first season in Knoxville she scored four goals in 16 appearances (470 minutes), but she was never handed a start on the team. Not a bad record really. A sign she can cause an impact and influence matches.

At Tennessee, Simmonds has played as a box threat forward who can also drop in and bring others into the game. She’s also not afraid to make her chances and take a shot on from outside the box. Like she did against Auburn last season.

But starting Simmonds would be a bold move. She’s one of the youngest members of the squad and has only one senior appearance for the Reggae Girlz. Quite a lot to throw at the teenager with a lot on the line.

Therefore, Simmonds’ relative inexperience might make recent Villareal CF signing McKenna (nee McCoy) the safest bet to replace Shaw. After all, she’s done it before.

This is the 26-year-old’s fourth year on the national team, and she’s well versed on what it means to be in the the forward rotation. At the 2022 CONCACAFW Championship, she even started in place of Shaw in the semifinal defeat to Canada.

After starting her professional career with the Houston Dash, but struggling for game time in the NWSL, she moved to Glasgow Rangers in 2021. The move to Scotland helped her rediscover her goalscoring boots. 30 goals in 57 matches over two seasons in the SWPL makes her easily the most in-form goalscorer after Shaw.

Taking chances against Panama will be the most important thing for Jamaica. Providing Brown and Matthews, along with vital midfield cog Drew Spence, can create enough, then McKenna’s job just has to be clinical in the box.

The Illinois-native’s brace for Rangers against Benfica gives a good idea of the sort of centre forward she could be. Especially her first goal. Which was an emphatic header at the near post from a floated cross. That’s what the Reggae Girlz will need against Panama.

Don’t overlook Panama, but the return vs. Brazil is key

Obviously it’s a big blow for the Reggae Girlz to head into the second Group Stage match without Shaw.

If you gave coach Donaldson a choice of either not having Shaw against Panama or not having her against Brazil, I wonder which he would choose?

Panama is the more likely victory for Jamaica. It’s an absolute must-win if they want to get out of Group F. So is it more useful to have Shaw’s elite goalscoring ability in a match where the Reggae Girlz will create more chances and have more possession?

Or is perhaps Shaw’s return for the Brazil match far more important, when once again her work rate, physicality, hold-up play and poise will be essential in a match that will probably see Jamaica spend more time defending without the ball.

Panama, who make their World Cup debut against Brazil on Monday in Adelaide, will be the underdogs on Matchday Two. The Central Americans will also be targeting their best chance of points against Jamaica. It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out between the two CONCACAF nations.

  1. Coincidentally, the duo also shares the same alma mater of Florida Sate University. Brown is still currently playing and studying for the school who she won a national championship for in 2021. Matthews attended FSU between 2014-2015.