Sydney Schneider: Making soccer history as one of the ‘Reggae Girlz’ (”1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

Sydney Schneider of UNCW joins the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Sydney Schneider’s game, and name, reached new heights this summer during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. As the starting goalkeeper for the Jamaican women’s national soccer team, the 19-year-old from New Jersey made several plays that drew social media shout-outs from high-profile athletes like Olympic gold-medalists Usain Bolt and Hope Solo. She was ‘trending’ on Twitter. Her Instagram likes skyrocketed to more than 45,000.

“The only word I can say is crazy, just crazy,” Sydney says about the international attention. “I never thought this would have happened, and it just kind of, kept getting a bigger and bigger deal.”

Sydney says she first started playing soccer around the age of four. Her connection to the Jamaican women’s squad dates back to 2015, after team representatives saw Sydney play with a U15 soccer team in her home state and made an inquiry to her coach. They learned she was eligible to play for Jamaica since both of her maternal grandparents were born there. They offered Sydney a chance to join, but for a 15-year-old heading into her junior year in high school, it was a bit overwhelming.

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all smiles for another tourney💁🏽‍♀️ #PanAm

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“I wasn’t committed to a college yet, and I was worried about that,” the now rising UNC Wilmington junior remembers. “Junior year, everybody says is your most stressful year in high school, you take all your standardized tests, you worry about getting committed, so I was stressed out about that. I felt I couldn’t miss school, it’s supposed to be really hard, so I actually said ‘no’ the first time.”

The next year, after the first of Sydney’s two all-state seasons at South Brunswick (NJ) High School and her decision to attend UNC Wilmington to continue her education and soccer career, a second invitation came to join the Jamaican women’s team. Again, there was hesitation in the young goalkeeper’s mind. Sydney thinks back to a conversation she had with her mom, Andrea, who encouraged her daughter to take advantage of the second chance. Sydney talks about it at 10:30 of the podcast.

“She said ‘Why aren’t you going to go, are you scared?’” Sydney recalls. “I said ‘I don’t know, what if I’m not good? What if they don’t like me? It’s a big deal, I’m playing for a country. It’s not just like a club, so what if I’m not good enough?’ She said ‘if you weren’t good enough, they wouldn’t have called you. Just go there and play, you’ve been doing this the whole time. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing with or where you’re playing. It’s just the same thing’.”

Sydney joined, and got her first taste of international play as part of Jamaica’s team in the 2016 Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) U17 competition. As work continued to build Jamaica’s national program, Sydney took her game to UNCW, where she started all 18 games as a freshman in 2017, posting four shutouts and stopping nearly 75 percent of the shots against her.

Sydney’s success on the soccer field becomes even more impressive when you realize she did not start out as a goalkeeper. She played forward for most of her youth soccer career until her U14 team needed someone to fill the spot.

“I did not like it at all,” she says with a laugh. “I was like ‘get me out of here!’ The coach said, ‘alright tall athletic girl, go in goal!’ I played there and didn’t do too bad for not having any training. They were shocked! So, I was in there all season, and then the next season I was like ‘No, I’m done! I did my time!’ and went back to being a forward. People started asking me ‘why did you stop, you were good?’ So then I went back and I started doing both.”

Sydney’s sophomore season with the Lady Seahawks was limited to eight games, as she rejoined the Jamaican national team at the CONCACAF Women’s Championship. The ‘Reggae Girlz’, as they call themselves, were trying to secure the country’s first-ever bid to a FIFA World Cup event. In the team’s second match against Costa Rica, Sydney shut out the higher-ranked team 1-0, and was named ‘Player of the Match’. The Jamaicans then defeated Cuba 9-0 to move into the semifinals.

“That was a really good game,” Sydney says about the victory over Costa Rica. “We knew what was on the line. We had to win in order to move on to the next stage of qualifiers, so to pull out that victory, and be a big part of it, was just really amazing.”

In the semi, Sydney and her teammates played the eventual champion United States team. The Americans dominated, firing 24 shots at Sydney, and she stopped many more than she allowed. Goals from Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz led the U.S. to a 6-0 victory. Sydney remembers getting texts from friends after the game, congratulating her on blocking shots from some of the high-profile stars. She revealed to me, though, that on the field she doesn’t have time to be starstruck.

“I actually try not to worry about other people,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the time people focus on other people, like ‘oh wow, we’re playing against this person! They’re this, this and this!’ I try to set that aside and worry about myself. If I’m prepared, and I do what I can to benefit myself, it doesn’t matter who I’m playing. I should just play.”

When Jamaica outlasted Panama 4-2 in a tie-breaker to win the match for third-place, Sydney and the Reggae Girlz had not only earned Jamaica’s first-ever spot in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but also the first for any team from the Caribbean.

In Jamaica’s first World Cup game against Brazil, Sydney stopped a penalty kick in the first half to keep her team within 1-0. The play drew a “Yes, mi keeper!” tweet from Bolt, the medal-winning sprinter from Jamaica. Solo, the former goalkeeper for United States women’s national teams, also sent encouragement on Twitter with “Massive save and performance by Syd Schneider – Your focus and talent is a showcase of how pivotal goalkeepers are in the World Cup. Good Luck through the rest of the tournament Sydney and all the Reggae Girls!” Sydney talks about the sudden notoriety at 21:10 of the podcast, and about balancing the positives of her performance with the reality that her team eventually lost the history-making match by a score of 6-0.

“Honestly, after that game, the vibe did not feel like we lost,” she said. “It was kind of like ‘We played our first game! Wow!’ Everyone was pretty excited. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted. It wasn’t one of those games where everyone has their head down and is really glum.”

Sydney played in the team’s third match of the World Cup and has also started in goal for the Jamaican women’s national team at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. She is set to return to UNC Wilmington for her junior season, and plans to graduate a semester early with a degree in Exercise Science. As for the future, Sydney wants to take her game to the next level.

“I think I’m going to play professionally,” she said. “It was sort of a back and forth, but then my stepdad said ‘you have to try it. Say you have this opportunity and you don’t take it. You’re not going to regret taking it, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. But if you just don’t do it, you’re going to regret not doing it’.”

Sydney Schneider, the UNCW Seahawk who made history as the starting goalkeeper with the Jamaican women's national team in the 2019 Women's World Cup, is the guest on this week's "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast.
Sydney Schneider, the UNCW Seahawk who made history as the starting goalkeeper with the Jamaican women's national team in the 2019 Women's World Cup, is the guest on this week's "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast. (Source: WECT)

Sydney and I talked about many other things, including equal pay for women’s soccer players, whether she felt overwhelmed stepping out onto the field during the opening match of the Women’s World Cup, and how the daughter of legendary musician Bob Marley helped invigorate the Jamaican women’s national team. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

You can watch Sydney and the Lady Seahawks in action, when they host two exhibition matches on August 10th and 16th. The team’s home opener is scheduled for August 29th against Coastal Carolina.

You can hear my full interview with UNCW junior Sydney Schneider, on her experience making history with the Jamaican women’s national team at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, by clicking on any of the links below.

Please subscribe to the “1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast, and you will immediately receive the new episodes on Saturday.

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