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Nicole McClure sure knows how to stop penalty kicks

October 21 2014: Nicole McClure (13) of Jamaica

October 21 2014: Nicole McClure (13) of Jamaica during a CONCACAF Women's World Cup qualifier against Mexico at RFK Stadium, in Washington D.C. Mexico won 3-1. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images) Credit: AP/Tony Quinn

FRISCO, Texas — Performing shootout heroics isn't anything new to Jamaican goalkeeper Nicole McClure.

She pulled off similar magic for the East Meadow Shooting Stars at a Disney Soccer Tournament in 2006.

Just before the penalty-kick tiebreaker, parents bragged about their players on the sideline.

"The opposition's parent said, 'My daughter always scores penalties.’ A dad on our side said, 'Well, my keeper always saves penalties,' “ McClure said. "And sure enough, I saved it and we won. It was awesome. I'll never forget that day."

McClure now has another red-letter date to remember, which could change Jamaican sports culture. In the CONCACAF Women's Championship third-place match on Wednesday, she was called on as a 120th-minute replacement for the tiebreaker after Jamaica and Panama played to a draw at 2.

McClure, 28, made the most important two saves of her career in a 4-2 shootout win, propelling the Reggae Girlz into the history books as the first Caribbean team to qualify for the Women's World Cup.

"This means the world," she said in a Friday phone interview from Sweden, where she was preparing for Sundsvall DFF's game at Kvarnsveden. "It hits me in waves. Sometimes I don't realize what happened and other times I'm like whoa, this really happened. It's a surreal feeling to say the least."

Qualifying could change things on how Jamaicans view women's soccer and give a much-needed financial boost to the woefully under-funded women’s team. “Things are changing as we speak down in Jamaica,” McClure, the daughter of Jamaican natives who was born, ironically, in Jamaica, Queens, said.

Few soccer observers gave Jamaica any chance of reaching the semifinals. After acquitting themselves well in a 2-0 loss to Canada, the Jamaicans defeated Costa Rica, 1-0, and Cuba, 9-0, to reach the knockout round.

It wasn't easy sitting out virtually the entire competition. McClure backstopped the Cuba victory.

"It was tough not being part of the squad on the field," she said. "It was tough mentally, emotionally. I'm still a leader. I know I add value to the team. But I'm glad it happened the way it did."

Technical director Hue Menzies had all the confidence in the world in McClure. "We planned it that we were going to make that sub," he said. "We knew that if it comes to this point, Nicole is going to step up quick, a lot quicker than [regular goalkeeper Sydney] Schneider. She has a good instinct. You can see it in her eyes when she's on the bench. She knew it's her time, Nicole's time."

McClure flew back to Sweden Thursday for a Saturday game. When she walked into the locker room Friday, her teammates applauded and surprised her with a cake with a Jamaican flag that said, "Congratulations, Nicole" in Swedish with blasting Bob Marley music.

"It was a really cool cake," she said. "It was really, really sweet."

She also has fond memories playing for the Shooting Stars from 2003-07, before attending the University of Hawaii and the University of South Florida. McClure helped the Long Island Junior Soccer League team win the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association State Cup Girls Under-15 crown in 2005.

"It was definitely my favorite team, hands down," she said. "The girls were the best. Just a bunch of characters. We had so much fun. I will cherish those memories forever."

McClure hoped that she will have some more to cherish when the WWC kicks off in France June 7.

"Its indescribable to know that on June 7 that things are going to change again," she said. "It's an honor. I'm staying humble because anything could happen between now until then. If I get called on, I'm ready."

Even if it means coming on as an 11th-hour sub to provide more shootout heroics.

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