Laura Dougall has never been to Trinidad, but the Caribbean nation has presented her with the opportunity of a lifetime.
The starting goalkeeper for the University at Buffalo women's soccer team has been recalled by new Trinidad & Tobago women's national team head coach Carolina Morace for a training camp that begins July 10. The Women Soca Warriors are expected to train for roughly 10 days before traveling to Margarita Island to face Venezuela on July 20 and 23.
As United States Soccer fans have seen countless times - from Jermaine Jones to Darlington Nagbe to Fabian Johnson - a soccer player need not be born in a country to represent it on the international stage. Because of her father's background, Dougall is eligible to compete for T&T while retaining her eligibility to play her senior season for the Bulls this fall.
"It's a mix of excitement and nerves," said Dougall, in an email, after receiving the T&T invite. "I can hardly believe I am actually going to potentially play on an international team."
Although she's already set the UB record for career shutouts (27) long before her senior season, Dougall isn't a shoo-in for the roster of 18 players that Morace will pick for the friendlies; performance in training will determine the list of traveling players to Venezuela from a larger pool, many coming from United States colleges.
"I know there will be an adjustment period trying to get to know everyone and adapt to new coaching styles and routines," Dougall added. "It can be challenging and nerve wracking but hopefully I will make some new friends and learn the ropes from the more experienced players."
HOW IT'S POSSIBLE
Dougall's father, Steve, lived in Trinidad until age 6 before moving to Jamaica when his father's job transferred, then to Mississauga, Ont., in the middle of winter. Many of the Dougalls' Trini relatives had already made the jump to Canada. Steve and his wife, Terri, had Laura in July 1996 in Pickering, Ont.
While she's never visited Trinidad until this training camp, Dougall isn't a novice when it comes to the Caribbean culture, thanks to the influence of her Trini grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
"Family dinners consisted of macaroni pie, callaloo (a leafy green, often sauteed) and crab, stewed chicken, pigeon peas and rice when at my Granny and Grandpa Dougall's [house]," Laura remembers. "Many of my friends who met my Trinidad relatives find the accent harder to understand, but I have grown up with it all my life so hopefully that helps [this summer]."
Easing the transition will be a few remaining relatives on the island of Trinidad, including family in Port of Spain, roughly a 20-minute drive from Hasely Crawford Stadium, T&T's regular training grounds.
While it's one thing for Dougall to be eligible to play for Trinidad & Tobago, it's entirely another to be invited into the national team camp.
The crucial connection came through her goalkeeping coach, Jeff Sanderson, who knew of Dougall's family history and boasted a strong Trinidadian soccer network of his own.
Sanderson corresponded with a Trinidad & Tobago scout, who was eager to set up a training session in March. One problem: Dougall had a long-planned backpacking trip through Europe - France, Switzerland and Italy - slated for the same time window.
Fortunately - thanks to the flexibility of the T&T contact - the UB goalkeeper was offered a reschedule for June 3 in Toronto, where her workout would be videotaped and forwarded to the T&T staff.
"A few days later the manager contacted me and said, 'You got a very positive review,' and 'the next stop is to get you here,' Dougall recounts. "Within 30 minutes I was sent the July plans for the women's national team."
The positive review will not come as shocking to Bulls fans; Dougall has stood tall in her three years in Amherst. Her breakout freshman campaign - which saw UB win the Mid-American Conference championship and book a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time - was rewarded with the MAC Freshman of the Year award and a spot on the all-conference first team.
Although she's been left off the All-MAC squads the last two years, Dougall's career statistics - 59 starts, .69 goals against average, 32 wins and 259 saves, all with one year left - have her positioned to go down as one of the best in UB history.
Growing up in Ontario and playing in some bitterly cold matches during the fall seasons at UB, Dougall is accustomed to one extreme temperature. Bear in mind that playing in the cold is considerably worse for goalkeepers, who don't move at the rate of the other field players.
"During the winter sessions [in Ontario] we would sometimes have to shovel snow off the field before training," Dougall said. "I am pretty sure I won’t have to be doing that in Trinidad!"
In Trinidad, July temperatures hover in the high 80s with humidity typically around 70 percent. Even the superbly conditioned United States women's national team finds the heavy hair and unrelenting heat a challenge during away matches in Trinidad.
"While we do play in the summer here in [Canada and Buffalo], Trinidad is much closer to the equator so I have to wonder what it will be like to play there in July," Dougall mused.
With her new head coach's emphasis on fitness, the goalkeeper will soon learn a thing or two about the elements.
After her hiring in December 2016, Italian goal-scoring legend and former Canada women's national team head coach Carolina Morace began to put her imprint on the Women Soca Warriors the following month.
It's hard to top Morace's playing career. She's one of only 15 women's soccer players to score more than 100 goals in international competition. The striker competed for her country, beginning at age 15, for two decades.
Her Players Tribune post from February 2017 is an enlightening look into her mindset - both as a player and a manager. Morace is perhaps best known, though, for being the first women to coach a professional men's team - Viterbese of Italy's Serie C, in 1999 - even though she spent just two matches at the helm before resigning.
For Dougall, July 10 will not be the first time she's met Morace.
"In 2008, when I was playing for the Pickering Soccer Club, Coach Morace attended a soccer camp that I was participating in," Dougall remembers. "She talked to all the girls and led a few drills. I have an autographed picture from her. I am sure she doesn't remember me but I do remember her. I was pretty young but excited to meet one of the best women soccer players in the world. I look forward to meeting her again."
The circumstances are different 10 years later. After a bitter conclusion to her time with the Canadian women's squad, Morace is hopeful T&T can reach its first World Cup in 2019. Armed with a fresh start, she's presently tasked with determining the best players to represent a country with which she's relatively unfamiliar.
The playing style she instills - modeled after Barcelona and Bayern, predicated both on supreme fitness and possession - will test Dougall's ability with her feet, especially her consistency in distributing out of the back.
WHAT'S AHEAD FOR T&T
Trinidad & Tobago have intentionally broadened their talent pool in an attempt to shine at the 2018 Caribbean Cup, the qualifying tournament for the 2018 Women's CONCACAF Championship, formerly known as the Gold Cup.
The top three finishers in the CONCACAF Championship will represent the confederation at the 2019 World Cup in France, while the fourth-place side competes in a play-in game against the No. 3 finisher in CONMEBOL (South America) for a World Cup berth.
The Women Soca Warriors have never qualified for a World Cup despite attempts every four years since 1991, although the Caribbean nation's fourth-place finish at the 2014 Gold Cup - and ensuing heartbreaking 1-0 loss at the tail end of the two-legged playoff against Ecuador (CONMEBOL third-place) - was accompanied by a touching story of generosity.
The Trinidad & Tobago Football Association runs a website with updates on the Women Soca Warriors' preparations for friendlies and tournaments, as well as interviews with players. It's worth keeping an eye on over the next month for updates.
But in the meantime, Morace will call upon uncapped players like Dougall to adjust to an unfamiliar environment and improve the quality of the country's football.
For the UB goalkeeper, the trip is a chance to make her mark on international football while exploring the roots of her family history.
An earlier version of this story indicated that the Trinidad & Tobago women's national team would train meet and train July 3 in preparation for friendlies against Martinique. That camp, as well as the friendlies, have been canceled.