Hope Solo is a legend of the famed United States Women National Team. She was a very controversial figure before calling it quits in 2016.
Besides her odd side character, she is regarded as one of the best players ever to grace the game. She boasts of a Fifa Women’s World Cup title and two golds, a silver and a bronze in the Olympics.Solo rose gradually through the US national underage ranks – Under-16, 19 and 21 – before making a record 202 appearances for the senior team. Her glittering career has endeared the 40-year-old to many who look up to her for inspiration, among them is Uganda Crested Cranes goalkeeper Daphine Nyayenga.
“My role model is Hope Solo,” Nyayenga, the reigning Fufa Women’s Super League goalkeeper of the year, reveals with a bold smile.
“I want to emulate her in everything I do on the pitch.”
Just like her role model, Nyayenga did start her football journey at a tender age but not as a goalkeeper.She was lured into the game and picked interest at the age of nine while at Kitebi Primary School.
“I used to watch boys and other girls of my age playing and decided to join in. I didn’t face resistance from my parents as long as I followed the school and home routines,” she says of her parents’ support.
By that time, Nyayenga was playing in attack and never thought of goalkeeping as an option but that was to change. A chance knocked her door for a sports scholarship at Kakungulu Memorial School but, unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in the trials.
“She was very depressed after failing and even cried but I saw qualities that could make her succeed in goal; she had the perfect height and was comfortable with both feet. So, I convinced her to join Rines SS but as a goalkeeper,” coach Ryan Wasswa, whom Nyayenga holds dear for helping discover the gold in her hands, says.
Wasswa put Nyayenga through the basic drills that began her transformation into a future national treasure.“She learnt fast and was named the best goalkeeper in a girls’ tournament in Buganda region two months later. She faced the likes of Fazilla [Ikwaput]. That’s where Ikwaput played before starting her national team career.
“At first, her mother was worried because of the many bruises she picked in the intense training and matches but I tried to convince her that it would be okay with time. She agreed,” Wasswa adds.
Nyayenga, still in 2017, started attracting the attention of Women Elite League coaches. It was not long before Uganda Martyrs High School Lubaga came calling. She joined the school team after one term at Rines and was part of their Fufa Elite League campaign.
With her rise and impressive performances, a national team call was not far. She was the first name on coach Ayub Khalifa’s list after his appointment as head coach of the national under-17 girls’ team ahead of the Cosafa Women’s Under-17 in September 2019.
Nyayenga was summoned alongside Joan Namusisi, Gift Nasasira and Cecilia Kamuli but dominated the gloves and became a mainstay.
She was splendid in the Cosafa tournament conceding only two goals, scoring one from the spot as Uganda lifted the title. The keeper was named the best goalkeeper at the tournament.
“It was special because that was my first time with the team abroad and came with a trophy and individual honours. It signalled the beginning of hard work and not celebrations,” Nyayenga says of the Mauritius outing, her first time to fly out of the country.
Khalifa kept faith in her and later summoned for the Cecafa Under-17 Women’s championship. Both Uganda and the custodian repeated their Mauritius feat by winning the inaugural trophy with Nyayenga spicing it by winning the golden glove.
Nyayenga returned home and helped Uganda Martyrs in their title pursuit in the shortened 2020-21 FWSL season affected by Covid but the wisemen advise that when you aim at the moon and miss, you’ll definitely land among the stars. She was unable to steer the team to glory but was third best to a star-studded Lady Doves, the eventual champions.
Doves earned the ticket to represent Uganda at the inaugural Caf Champions League qualifiers in Nairobi, Kenya. They needed to boost their squad. Nyayenga was among their new additions. She was signed on a short-term deal as a back-up to Daisy Nakaziro who had just been named the best goalkeeper locally.Nyayenga never left the bench in the games as Lady Doves quest ended in the semi-finals and on return, she opted to return to Martyrs.
She stayed at Martyrs shortly before joining She Corporate for the 2021-22 season as the replacement for the Vanessa Karungi, who was headed for a professional stint. In Nyeyenga, She Corporate clicked the perfect link to success.
Budding goalkeeper Daphine Nyayenga. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE
The youngster, who turns 18 in December, missed only two games but her prowess for the club saw her keep 11 clean sheets in 16 games en route to their league triumph.
“I think I am growing and can say that God has been on my side and that my parents have been my greatest source of motivation; they’ve been my biggest fans,” Nyayenga glows tributes to her supportive parents Nobert-James Wokorach and mother Betty Namutebi after her league triumph where she was also named the goalkeeper of the season.
Uganda is endowed with goalkeeping talents. When asked for his first choice ahead of the Cecafa Women’s Championship that concludes today in Njeru, coach George Lutalo was coy but admitted a selection headache.
“They’re all good which gives me a healthy selection headache but I will choose based on training,” Lutalo noted.
Familiar situation, right?
Previously, the coach had to choose between captain Ruth Aturo and an in-form Daisy Nakaziro, who had just been named the best goalkeeper locally and nominated for best player of the year. He went with the former. When he had to choose between Nyayenga, who is currently in Nakaziro’s previous situation, he went with the latter. Lutalo seems to be playing a diplomatic card by going with experience rather than form, something that seems to be working for him.
However, at the end of the regional tournament, the coach will have to make tougher decisions for his squad for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. Choices between returning Aturo and Karungi and the pair of Nakaziro and Nyayenga for the finals.
Nyayenga, who has steadily risen through the U-17 and U-20s as the dependable hands, seems unfazed by the competition but wants to earn her stripes piece by piece and consistently.
“I am not where I was some years ago. To me, it’s a process that requires patience and hardwork. I learn from them and work on what they do better than me because they are there because they deserve it,” she says. Nyayenga is a Senior Six candidate at Young Christian School in Kampala taking Divinity, Economics and Fine Art.
Daphine has a lot of abilities to become one of the best goalkeepers for the national team. She is comfortable on both feet, good distribution and strong on one-on-one situations but she has to improve in her commanding; she must stop fearing defenders and players older than her but interact with them and command where necessary while on the field.
Healthy headache picking Crested Cranes Number One
In Ruth Aturo, Vanessa Karungi, Daphine Nyayenga and Daisy Nakaziro, the Crested Cranes technical team have a healthy dilemma picking who marshalls the affairs between the sticks. Aturo, who has previously captained the national side, and Karungi are professional players but Nyayenga’s emergence, especially at the Cecafa Women’s Championship that concludes today, rules out any chance of a given for the gloves.There will be a tough decision to drop one for the upcoming women’s nations cup finals and yet another tough one on who starts.
Profile: Daphine Nyagenga
Born: Dec. 19, 2004Parents: Betty Namutebi & Nobert James WokorachClubs: Rines SS, Uganda Martyrs High School, Lady Doves & She Corporate
Achievements2019 Cosafa Women’s Under-17 – gold & golden gloves2019 Cecafa Women’s Under-17 – gold & golden gloves2021/22 Fufa Women Super League – gold & golden gloves