Giselle Washington can’t remember a time in her life without soccer.

The soft-spoken 17-year-old said she’s been playing the game since she “was about 3.” She’s tried other sports, but always came back to soccer. She felt a special connection to the game.

Giselle Washington in her Brookhaven back yard. (Joe Earle)

“I love it,” Giselle said as she sat in her Brookhaven home one recent afternoon. “I just like everything about it. Honestly. I love team sports, just competing …” She paused for beat. “… and winning.”

She learned her sport playing on Y teams and while working her way up through the ranks of Concorde Fire soccer teams. Her work paid off. Come summer, the long-limbed midfielder is scheduled to head to France to compete on a team battling for the Women’s World Cup.

She’ll be playing on the Reggae Girlz, the women’s team from Jamaica, the country where her mother was born. Giselle, whose teammates call her “Gi,” was born and grew up in DeKalb County and has passports from both the U.S. and Jamaica. She’s one of the youngest players on the Jamaican team, which is set next summer to make its first appearance in the World Cup.

“I’m so excited,” she said after returning in January from a week-long practice camp in Montego Bay, Jamaica. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It is crazy. I’m going to be in [the World Cup tournament] playing along with my idols.”

Her coach on the elite team at Concorde Fire voices little surprise that his midfielder will be competing for a national team at the highest levels of her sport. James Harris said he’s coached Giselle for years. “She’s very good. She’s special,” he said. “She’s very calm… makes the right decisions. She reads the game very well.”

Off the field, “she is wise and mature beyond her age,” he said. “Her leadership qualities on and off the field – you couldn’t anyone who ever would say a negative thing about her… She’s pretty remarkable – very quiet, calm. She just shows up and does her job.”

While she’s competed for a slot on the Jamaican team, her Concorde Fire teammates have been cheering her on, Harris said. They followed her progress on social media, he said, and, at one point, streamed her game to watch it on the sidelines during their practice.

Giselle is among about a dozen U.S. players listed on a recent 31-member Jamaican team roster. She said she was introduced to Jamaican soccer at age 14. A coach saw her playing in a U.S. tournament and, after discovering her family background, invited her to try out for the Jamaican program.

She’s been taking part in soccer camps and competitions in the Caribbean since, she said. Playing there while keeping up with her Concorde Fire games and practices and her schoolwork proved difficult at times. “At one point, it was crazy,” said her mom, Sherrene Washington. “I told her I should be her agent, the schedule was so crazy.”

Now it’s all good. “It’s exciting, unbelievable,” Sherrene Washington said. “We just so appreciative. We just never thought it would escalate to this level.”

As a Reggae Girl, Giselle is getting to know her mother’s home country better. “It’s completely different from here,” she said. “The people are super sweet. The culture, the food is terrific. The general vibe…” The team “is just being energized by the whole culture,” she said. “It’s like a family.”

In her own family in Brookhaven, she’s the oldest of four children. All take part in athletics. Her three younger siblings wear number 28, Giselle’s number.

After the World Cup, Giselle plans to keep playing. She’s headed to the University of Tennessee next year, she said, and hopes to keep raising her game. After all, she feels that special connection to soccer.

“I just find it fun,” she said. “I like watching it, playing it…”

And, of course, winning.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.