By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
STATESBORO — “Why are we walking?” yelled soccer goalie Sydney Martinez to her South Georgia Tormenta FC teammates during a recent USL W League soccer match.
Of course, there was a good reason. Temperatures were hovering near 95 degrees with a blazing sun overhead on this day at Eagle Field on the campus of Georgia Southern University.
“I know, I know, but we practice in the middle of the day in the heat,” Martinez said.
The former Effingham County High School standout takes her craft seriously. Any doubt about her dedication ended last season when she played through a head butt that required 10 stitches under her lip for her University of South Florida team against Kentucky.
“I went back in the game and got the win. I can’t complain,” Martinez said, laughing. “Put a football mouthguard in me, a Band-Aid, all right get back in there. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”
She smileD. Despite her demanding style, she’s a happy camper spending the summer with Tormenta in Statesboro. The soccer club provides free housing and meals.
And the inaugural women’s league, in conjunction with the United Soccer League, provides high-caliber competition.
“All the girls are here because they like soccer, they like each other and they like the environment, but there’s a handful that want to use this as a springboard to get to the next level,” said South Georgia Tormenta FC coach Jim Robbins, a Rincon resident.
Martinez fits that category.
“That’s the dream,” she said. “I just have to keep pushing myself and if the opportunities come, they come. And if they don’t, that’s OK, too. All I know is I have to do my best.”
Martinez has been a local soccer prodigy, buoyed by physical skill and a competitive heart.
She combines 6-foot height with good lateral movement, dexterity and anticipation.
“Her presence, her poise, her leadership, obviously, she can make all the saves,” Robbins said. “She’s a high-level player who brings tremendous experience. She’s probably the best goalie in the league.”
Martinez’s credentials back up the praise. She’s been a four-year starter at South Florida — a school that has been near the Division I top-25 women’s soccer rankings.
Martinez earned second-team All-American honors as a junior in 2020. She was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors that year while compiling a 10-1-2 record and setting a school-mark with an 0.45 goal-against average.
She has a career collegiate record of 47-12-5 in goal.
Her talents have been honed in South Georgia, At 12, Martinez starred with the Savannah Storm and eventually played in Tormenta’s youth programs.
As a high school junior, she missed the prom for a chance to go to Brazil with the US Soccer Olympic Development Program.
A year later, she was making weekly trips to Jacksonville, Fla., to train with the highly regarded Jacksonville Armada.
Now she’s come full circle back to Tormenta. After four games, Martinez has posted a 2-0-2 record with three shutouts.
“She’s the whole package, obviously the reason why we have three shutouts,” Robbins said. “I think she’ll be a first- or second-round draft pick next year (in the National Women’s Soccer League).”
Martinez said she’ll go back to USF next fall and take advantage of a fifth year of eligibility granted to NCAA athletes because of COVID which limited play in 2020.
She said academically she’ll work to get a minor in criminology to go along with her bachelor’s degree in business management.
“One thing I hope my career can show girls who love the sport out in Effingham is that even though we come from a super small town we have opportunities all around us,” Martinez said. “We can still make it big.”