Lorne Donaldson first burst onto the soccer scene as a 17-year-old on the Jamaican National Team. He’s currently the head coach of the Jamaican U20 Women’s National Team. The 61-year old still clearly has a lot of homeland pride, and tends to wear the yellow, black and green flag all over his clothes whenever he’s not roaming the pitches as the Executive Director of Coaching for Real Colorado.
But as Donaldson’s career flourished in the Mile High City — first as a three-time All-American at Metro State following his arrival in the U.S. in 1980, then by earning two American Professional Soccer League championships in his time as head coach of the Colorado Foxes, and a two-year stint as a Colorado Rapids assistant coach after that — even he admits the game shifted his self-identity.
“Colorado has become a part of me,” Donaldson said. “Jamaica is still home but it’s now my second home, because I’ve been in Denver for longer than I lived in Jamaica. I’ve seen the city grow from where there was really no soccer, per se, into a big-time soccer state.”
And just as Donaldson has become a Coloradan, the state, too, has gained much from him.
Donaldson is one of the primary architects of Colorado’s current girls soccer power, Real Colorado, the state’s crowning club jewel thanks to consistent winning and multitudes of professional and national team players such as Mallory Pugh and Janine Beckie.
Donaldson started Real Colorado as the Douglas County Blast in 1997. Since then the program has grown to more than 450 teams and become a national soccer force.
“I think I’ve become a part of the Real brand, so when I leave here, I see myself as basically done and retired,” Donaldson said. “There’s been a lot of great coaches and great players who have come through this program. Nothing lasts forever, but I’m grateful to have had the chance to build this program and build the sport in this state.”
And this week, Real Colorado has five girls teams competing in the ECNL Champions League playoffs as the club continues to chase its first ECNL title. The U14s, U15s, U16s, U17s and U19s are all currently in Rockford, Ill., battling to become just the second Colorado club to win an ECNL title. (The Colorado Rush U15s did so in 2012.)
Star striker Sophie Smith and reigning Colorado Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year Shae Holmes leads an explosive U17 side that features a stockpile of the state’s best prep players, while the U19s — a group that was the national runner-up last year at U17 — are paced by recent U18 U.S. Women’s National Team call-up Tess Boade as well as Jaelin Howell, who has been a rising star in the national team system.
“We have to play well, but in a championship round, you have to be a little bit lucky at times, too,” Donaldson said. “To win a championship and know that these are the best players in the country — that’s always special. We’ve been close, and we’ve been to a lot of finals. This could be the year one of our teams pulls it out.”
The Colorado Youth Soccer Hall of Fame member and co-founder of the Black Soccer Coaches Association of America is driven by two factors: to spread the joy of the beautiful game, and to make soccer a conduit to life success.
“We’ve sent over 1,000 players to college on scholarship since I started Real, and if I’m going to be proud of one thing, that’s certainly it,” Donaldson said. “That’s what the players strive for. Yes, we’ve had lots of national team players and professional players, but I’m more proud of how we’ve put players through college and help mold them into great women and men.”