Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rowdies defender gets the call to represent Jamaica

ST. PETERSBURG — Damion Lowe has loved his first season with the Rowdies but has some other soccer-related business that might pull him away for a bit.

Family business, too.

Lowe was called up Monday to the Jamaican national team, set to suit up for them in the Caribbean Cup semifinal against French Guiana in Martinique on Thursday. And with the Gold Cup, an event Jamaica is also a part of, set for July the Rowdies might have to get used to being without one of their top defenders.

"I'm always happy when I get the chance to represent my home country on the international stage," said Lowe, who earned his first cap (national appearance) with Jamaica last October.

He has several dozen more to go to catch his chief competitor, who happens to also be his dad.

Onandi Lowe appeared in 65 games for Jamaica, scoring 27 goals between 1995 and 2004.

"I want to surpass his achievements. That's kind of my goal," Damion said. "He lives in New York, calls me every day, and we always go at it. 'I played this amount of games' like that."

Having a father who played at the highest level, including a pair of games in the 1998 World Cup when Damion was 5, tended to lead him into the sport of soccer.

Living 10 minutes away from the national soccer stadium in Kingston aided the life path as well.

"Soccer was always going to win," he said. "Cricket is big in Jamaica, we have really good cricketeers. I did track and field. But soccer was just the thing for me. It chose me."

Plenty happened between that and Lowe, 24, choosing the Rowdies.

Lowe's father moved to Brooklyn in 2011 as Damion ended up going to Hartford University, three hours away, for his college ball. The large Jamaican culture in Hartford, where Lowe's aunt lived, made it "kind of an easy decision," but then came the first practice.

And a bad meeting between foot and the unfamiliar, artificial turf.

"I broke my fifth metatarsal. I wanted to go home. Basically I had to tough up. Dad gave me my space, made me grow and learn, to manage myself — dad's not always going to be there to help," Lowe said.

After missing the first 12 games Lowe ended up suiting up for nine as a freshman. Hartford sprung an upset of second-seeded Boston University in the American East Conference tournament, where he made the all-tourney team.

Despite playing defense, he was third on the Hawks in scoring his sophomore season, and was ready for the MLS draft after his junior year.

Lowe was taken No. 8 overall by Seattle but suited up just 180 minutes for the Sounders' Reserves in his first pro season (2014), and the following year saw him log significant time but for the Seattle Sounders 2 (USL) side. On loan to NASL Minnesota last year, Lowe made 25 starts and drew the attention of the Rowdies.

"I was unemployed for December and a little bit of January, and my agent told me Tampa was interested. I told him straightaway, 'yes,' " Lowe said. "Great organization, opportunity, and I know they're pushing to go to the MLS. Maybe I could help. I'm happy with the decision I made and it's been going well so far."

Only fellow defender Neill Collins and midfielder Marcel Schafer have played more minutes this season, though that might change if Lowe takes part in the Gold Cup.

Before that, Jamaica, win or lose, has either a championship or third place match in the Caribbean Cup June 25. And as part of the 40-man player pool for the Gold Cup roster, Lowe could find soon that he's made the final cut (23 players) for the major event that stretches through the middle of July.

Though it doesn't help their cause, the Rowdies are happy for Lowe.

"We're absolutely delighted for Damion to be called up by his national team once again," Tampa Bay coach Stuart Campbell said. "He's been absolutely tremendous for us all year. Damion is a great young player with a big future ahead of him."

Especially exciting for Lowe, if he's selected for the Gold Cup, would be a first chance to square off with Mexico in a Group C match July 13 in Denver. The other group-stage matchups for Jamaica are against Curacao in San Diego (July 9) and El Salvador in San Antonio (July 16). The USA national side plays at Raymond James Stadium as part of the event July 12.

"It means a lot to me," Lowe said. "It's another milestone. I'm really following in my dad's footsteps."

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